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Climate Change: One More Problem for Pakistan

By Kieran Cooke, Climate News Network

The Indus river, originating on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for nearly 2,000 miles through the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir and finally down to the province of Sindh and out into the Arabian Sea, is key to life in Pakistan.

The majority of Pakistan’s 190 million people are involved in agriculture: the Indus, fed by glaciers high up in the Hindu Kush-Karakoram Himalaya mountain range, provides water for 90 percent of the country’s crops. Meanwhile hydro-power facilities based on the Indus generate around 50 percent of Pakistan’s total electricity.

Fisherman on the Indus river, South Pakistan.
Credit: International Rivers/flickr

Climate change is now threatening this vital waterway — and the future of millions in Pakistan. In recent weeks it has launched, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), its first ever national policy on climate change.

“Pakistan is among the most vulnerable countries facing climate risks”, says Marc-Andre Franche, the UNDP’s Pakistan director. ”Mechanisms need to be devised for greener, more resilient options for growth and sustainable development… the climate change clock is ticking too fast and the time to act is here and now.”

Pakistan’s scientists say that in order for the new policy to be effective a number of steps need to be urgently taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change. These include developing high temperature-tolerant crop strains, comprehensive flood warning systems and more reservoirs on the upper Indus. But there are serious doubts about funding for such schemes.

Ghulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, says weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic. In the 1999 to 2002 period Pakistan was hit by severe droughts as the flow in the Indus and its tributaries fell dramatically. But from 2010 to 2012 a series of unusually intense monsoons caused the Indus to burst its banks, resulting in widespread floods: thousands were killed and millions displaced.

“Pakistan’s climate-sensitive agrarian economy now faces larger risks from variability in monsoon rains, floods and extended droughts”, says Rasul. “I urge the world to assist Pakistan to deal with climate change.”

Economy at Risk

According to data gathered from 56 meteorological stations throughout Pakistan, there has been a marked increase in heat waves and rising temperatures in the vast Indus Delta in recent years.

Flood waters in Pakistan, 2010.
Credit: DVIDSHUB via Climate News Network

In an article in the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology, Rasul and others say there is a greater incidence of tropical cyclones and of saline intrusion in coastal regions. Already wheat and banana harvests in the Indus Delta are being affected.

Rising temperatures are also causing health problems among the area’s population. In many cases farmers in the region — among the poorest people in the world — are abandoning their lands and migrating to already overcrowded cities.

If this trend continues it could have devastating consequences for the wider economy. Sindh and the Indus Delta have become one of the world’s premier cotton-producing areas, feeding Pakistan’s economically vital textile industry. Falling cotton production in the region would not only hurt Pakistan: it would also trigger a substantial rise in world cotton prices.

Meanwhile in the mountainous far north most glaciers are in retreat, though some in the Karakoram range are stable or even — for as yet unknown reasons — expanding. Experts say that while melting glaciers might offset temperature rises and act as a form of insurance against drought in the short term,  the long term prognosis is not good.

David Grey, former senior water advisor at the World Bank and now visiting Professor of Water Policy at Oxford University, says that although there is insufficient data to come to an accurate long term assessment of what will happen to the Indus, there are deep anxieties.

“We all have very nasty fears that the flows of the Indus could be severely, severely affected by glacier melt as a consequence of climate change. Now what does that mean to a population that lives in a desert – without the river, there would be no life? I don’t know the answer to that question”, he says. “But we need to be concerned about that. Deeply, deeply concerned.”

Kieran Cooke is a co-editor for Climate News Network. Climate News Network is a news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and broadcasters. It delivers news and commentary about climate change for free to media outlets worldwide.

Comments

By Bob Bingham (New Zealand.)
on March 30th, 2013

We are all going to suffer as we are part of the same World. Even a lush temperate country like New Zealand is going to have problems.  ://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/

Reply to this comment

By Mary (Portland, OR 97219)
on April 1st, 2013

“the climate change clock is ticking too fast and the time to act is here and now”

Says who?  The 20 temp trend for the globe is now zero.  The sum total of all global warming due to humans is very close to 0.6 deg C of temp warming and 2 inches of sea level rise.  That’s tiny.

The time to act is here and now ?  What would you do?  I haven’t seen any cost/benefit analysis proposal that is even remotely beneficial.

Pakistan would benefit greatly from modernization and tolerance.  Climate change is the least of their problems.

Reply to this comment

By Pakistani (Lahore)
on January 18th, 2014

Pakistan would benefit greatly from modernization and tolerance.  Climate change is the least of their problems.

What do u think is the driver of Pakistan’s modernization and tolerance? its agriculture based economy…the more it flourishes..provides people income and prosperity, lesser will be its “problems”..and climate change does have a strong impact in form of floods, fatal heat waves, and irregular rain and weather patterns on its economy, social life and many other factors. so it all connects, one can’t have a superficial view of a country’s problems.

Reply to this comment

By Pakistan IT industry (California city,u.s.a)
on April 9th, 2013

Climate change is dangerous for any country it creates a position that can not easily handle by poor ones very difficult to analyse the exact situation while climate has changed suddenly your articles compiles all the right harmness of climate change.

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