Climate Change and its Impact on Pakistan


Hayat Ullah
Climate change is one of the most important global environmental challenges facing humanity, with implications for food production, natural ecosystems, fresh water supply, health, etc. The harmful impacts of climate change are already manifesting themselves around the world in the form of extreme weather events like storms, cyclones, floods, droughts that are mounting in frequency and intensity. According to the latest scientific assessment, the earth’s climate system has demonstrably changed on both global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that the global mean temperature may increase between 1.4 to 5.8oC before the present century ends. The impact would be particularly severe in tropical areas, which mainly consists of developing countries, including Pakistan. PAKISTAN PERSPECTIVE Pakistan is the second largest country in South Asia and mainly comprises dry or cold areas with low production potential. Geography varies across the country, shaping the great variation in the country’s climate. Climate ranges from mild winters and hot, dry summers in the north to semi-arid and arid zones in the west and the south. The country is bounded by the Himalayas in the north, the mountain ranges of Sulaiman in the east, and the low land plains of the River Indus in the south, west, and coastal areas. Sixty percent (60%) of the total watershed area of the Indus basin lies within Pakistan’s territory. Climate change exposes these areas to risks of glacial retreat, sea level rise, temperature increase, more frequent floods and droughts. As more than half of its land area is arid and semi-arid, expected changes in temperature and rainfall patterns in the future could impinge upon its food security and the welfare of millions of its people. The preliminary studies carried out indicate that Pakistan’s 22.8 percent area and 49.6 percent population is at risk due to the impact of climate change. Pakistan is more susceptible to the effects of changing climate because of its agrarian base and high dependency on natural resources for livelihoods. As agriculture is the lifeline of our economy, the influence of changing temperatures is expected to be most lethal in this sector. Pakistan’s Food Security has been put at risk and a reduction in annual crop yields brought on by various factors including increased water logging, desertification of land, growing frequency of pest attacks and disasters has been observed. According to projections, with just a 1°C rise in temperature, wheat yield in Pakistan is estimated to decline by 6-9% and an even lesser rise in temperature will severely impact cash crops like mango and cotton. The effect on agriculture is linked with the impact of climate change on water availability as Pakistan relies on irrigation for more than 90% of its agricultural production. Considering that only 40% of water diverted from rivers actually reaches the crop, affecting irrigation efficiency as a result of water shortage. Pakistan receives around 80% of water in the Indus Basin System from the melting of glaciers and snow melting. The system is in dynamic equilibrium with the annual availability of water in the Indus River system. The rise in temperature would, thus, interact with the availability of flows. Pakistan economy is dependent on agriculture in more ways than one and is posed to suffer risk greater than the ones already mentioned. The dependency of our industrial sector on agricultural raw material indicates that climate change is set to sabotage the supply chain of industry as well. Consequently, damage to livelihoods will not remain confined to the agricultural sector alone but will also spillover to the industrial markets. Moving from economic issues to issues of a more social nature, a significant vulnerability factor for Pakistan is the threat of climate change to our human settlements in Coastal Areas. Rising sea levels coupled with the increasing precipitation in some regions threaten to wreak havoc on many coastal towns and cities and can even possibly submerge them underwater. In 2007, the tropical cyclone Yemyin killed 529 people and caused damages to 2.5 million people in Sindh and Balochistan. With storm surges expected to increase and intensify and sea levels projected to rise, the populations in Karachi and other coastal belts are at great risk of displacement and destitution. All things considered, the impact of climate change on human health is obvious. In the face of calamities and natural resource shortages, human health is bound to suffer. Additionally, many diseases such as malaria, dengue and cholera are known to be sensitive to climatic factors. Warmer weather creates a more favorable environment for mosquitoes and other disease carrying pest and, therefore, increases the likelihood of disease break-outs among the masses.

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