Climate challenge

Long denied and then ignored, climate change is now wreaking havoc in Pakistan as the country runs a high risk of running out of water and braces for intense and unprecedented weather.

Pakistan breaks its own records of being one of the countries most affected by climate change almost every year. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan ranks eighth among the most vulnerable countries in the world. In May, the UN listed Pakistan among the top 23 countries to face drought-related emergencies in the past two years. Between 1998 and 2018, the country is estimated to have lost nearly 10,000 lives due to climate-related disasters and suffered losses amounting to approximately $4 billion due to 152 extreme weather events.

Analysts have estimated climate migrants from Pakistan over the past decade at around 30 million people. Extreme weather conditions coupled with lack of preparedness not only endanger the lives of millions of people, but also lead to food insecurity and deteriorating economic prospects.

Although heat waves have begun to affect the country in recent years, this year’s premature heat wave has had an impact, forcing millions of people to readjust or reduce their daily workload or lifestyle. life. The intense and unprecedented heat wave that started as early as April has also sent shockwaves over the country’s economic prospects, especially in Punjab. The province produces more than 50% of the country’s total wheat, but premature heat led to an early harvest that missed production targets.

Punjab has seen an unprecedented and premature rise in temperature ranging from 41 degrees C to 47 degrees C in different parts, completely skimming the spring season this year. It’s not that 47 degrees Celsius in the country is an abnormal temperature; the problem is that wheat and other crops need certain temperatures at certain times for their growth. The extreme heat event in March and April resulted in a significant reduction in yield per acre from over 40 munds to 28 munds. In May, the federal government decided to import three million tonnes of wheat from the international market to meet domestic needs.

This year’s intense and scorching heat wave has not spared mango production either, as the country has faced an almost 50% drop in mango production. Punjab alone, which produces 70% of the total mangoes, faced a 60% drop in mango production in the 2022 season. The ideal temperature for good mango flowering should be 13 degrees C to 30 degrees C, but this year the temperatures at that time were hovering around 40 degrees C.

Year-on-year increases in temperature have brought plague upon plague in rural and urban areas. In 2020, Punjab faced the most devastating locust infestation in nearly 30 years, which affected 15% of the province’s land area. Experts believe that the rising temperature of the Indian Ocean is one of the main reasons for the invasion of locusts in the South Asian region.

Also, rising temperature is one of the many reasons for deadly air pollution in the country. Rising temperatures are intimately linked to the climate crisis, experts say, as warmer temperatures create an environment conducive to smog formation and can cause air to become stagnant, preventing dirty air from leaving an area. Air pollution thus exacerbates existing inequalities and paves the way for human rights violations.

Deteriorating air pollution also leads to indirect costs such as reduced labor supply and productivity, skilled labor migration and financial sector volatility.

Rising temperatures are not an exclusive or sole reason for low yield of several crops in Pakistan, but prolonged droughts and below normal rains also have their part to play. Despite having one of the largest irrigation systems in the world, water canals across Pakistan have faced severe water shortages due to lower or below normal rainfall from February to June this year . Water reservoirs remained empty or partially filled, hampering economic activities.

Before recent rains brought relief to people in Cholistan, Thal and other desert regions of the country, life was turned upside down, forcing hundreds and thousands of people to migrate with their livestock to greener pastures. and urban centers desperate for water. Although all provinces faced severe water shortages at the end of June, Sindh faced the worst with a record 40% shortage.

The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) expected a water shortage of 22% for the Kharif season, but it turned out to be even worse with a water shortage of 38%.

The prolonged drought finally ended with the start of the monsoon season in July, but heavy rains made matters worse. Flash floods caused by abnormally heavy monsoon rains have killed more than 550 people so far, with Balochistan one of the hardest hit.

According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), July turned out to be the wettest month since 1961, with 181% more rain than average. Balochistan received 450% and Sindh 308% more rain than the annual average, the disaster management agency said.

Unusual and torrential rains in Karachi have taken their toll, forcing residents to stay home on weekdays. The provincial government also announced a day off to deal with the challenge of heavy rains. During the second period of monsoon rains, the city received more than an entire summer of rain in a single day. More than 50 casualties have been reported in Sindh.

Successive governments, for their part, have pledged to mitigate climate challenges and keep the issue as a top priority. But little has been done in this regard due to lack of funding, attention and will.

This year’s devastating floods have inflicted immense damage to infrastructure in Balochistan and Sindh. It will take years for the government to rebuild a resilient infrastructure, as it is barely surviving a default situation currently. Lack of public awareness and lack of sustainable policies are other factors that will keep Pakistan’s fight against the looming challenge of climate change from going unaddressed, at least for the foreseeable future.

The author holds a doctorate in South Asian studies. She tweets @AmeenaTanvir