Pakistan Reader# 235, 21 October 2021
Pakistan has been ranked globally in the top ten countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Due to its geographical diversity and a variable tropical, continental climate, the country has previously experienced several climatic and weather-related natural calamities. However, this has been exacerbated in recent years due to rapid climate change.
Footprints of climate change
Many studies have shown that climate change is expected to have far-reaching consequences in Pakistan. One, recurrence of extreme weather patterns. Natural disasters, which already have a negative impact on people's lives and the economy, are expected to become more frequent and intense in Pakistan. The foremost impact of climate change will be posed on the environment through increased temperatures and altered precipitation patterns.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average surface temperature has risen by about 0.6°C. With the rise in temperatures, parts of the country have also experienced scorching weather this year, posing a threat to health, wellbeing, and economic growth. In terms of precipitation, the county has experienced erratic rainfall. In January 2020, 106 people died due to climatic breakdown across the country, many of whom were killed by avalanches and landslides caused by heavy rain and snow. Furthermore, droughts are a regular longer-term occurrence with severe consequences for food and water security.
Two, the increased water variability. Climate change poses a direct threat to water availability in the country. Rainfall, glaciers, and snowmelt meet around 80 per cent of Pakistan's water requirement. It should be noted that Pakistan relies heavily on glaciers and snowmelt for freshwater and is indispensable to the country's economy. Climate-induced global warming across the country has resulted in the early melting of glaciers. In the short run, glacial runoff is indiscriminately beneficial to water-stressed Pakistan. Particularly the Chitaboo Glacier in Chitral situated in the Hindukush Mountains range has retreated rapidly in recent years due to global warming. Nevertheless, the increased river flow can produce deadly flash floods or incidences of glacier lake outbursts (GLOF) in 2010. In contrast, over a period, this loss of glacial melt, erratic rainfall, and higher temperatures would have an undeviating impact on the Indus River, thus affecting agricultural activities and many livelihoods.
Three, a decrease in agricultural productivity. The agricultural sector is the backbone of Pakistan's economy, contributing 19.2 per cent to GDP and engaging more than half its population in the sector. Around 80 per cent of the agricultural water needs are met by the glacial-fed river Indus and its tributaries. Climate-induced water variability will have a direct impact on the food security of the country. According to the Economic Survey 2019-20, climate change can disrupt food availability, reduce access to food, and affect food quality. Projected increases in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability may all result in reduced agricultural productivity.
How should Pakistan deal with climate change?
Indeed, the country has initiated and implemented policies to tackle climate change. However, this need not stop at establishing the Ministry of climate change, reforestation, which Imran Khan has been very keen on, or even refining the National Climate Change Policy (2012). The inability of the state to perform duties bestowed on them and the lack of farsightedness can be the greatest threat to its citizens.
Therefore, the way forward is to acknowledge climate change as an intensifying crisis that can cost dollars, lives, and livelihoods in the future. Second, the unfolding catastrophe is influencing every aspect of human life. Hence, it must be the utmost priority of the ruling government and its citizens to address the problem and take necessary steps collectively. Finally, the country must proactively address climate change through actions. Only then would we be on the road to collective survival; otherwise, it is unquestionably on the road to devastation.
Erum Haider, “Pakistan is facing an existential crisis”, Al Jazeera, 13 October 2021
Muntasir Sattar, “Climate catastrophe”, Dawn, 9 May 2021
“Millions at risk as melting Pakistan glaciers raise flood fears”, Al Jazeera, 9 June 2021
Climate Change, Pakistan Economic Survey 2021-21, Government of Pakistan
Qamar Uz Zaman Chaudhry, “Climate Change Profile of Pakistan”, Asian Development Bank