Impacts of climate change on Pakistan

Jan 4th, 2014 | By | Category: Development and Climate Change, Food, Pakistan, Water

Pakistan is facing numerous socio-economic challenges including poverty, terrorism, water scarcity among many others, however, the most complex challenge likely to impact our current and future generations is climate change. The signs are already visible on our society, most prominent of which is the extreme flooding during recent years. According to the Oxfam International, in 2010, Pakistan faced the worst ever natural disaster, in its history, in the form of flooding which claimed one-fifth of the geographical area and affected almost 20 million people.

Similarly, as per the Action Aid, in 2011, floods again devastated a million houses, affecting over 6 million people and sadly destroying 4.5 million acres of land respectively. Unfortunately, it did not end there as Pakistan was hit by another flood in year 2012. This back to back flooding made the resilience of masses more fragile and thus increased the overall poverty in Pakistan.

Sadly, the situation mentioned is just the tips of the iceberg, as Germanwatch organisation in its Global Climate Risk Index 2014 report, categorised Pakistan among the countries most affected by climate change in 2012 and accordingly placed it at third position. The same report highlighted the fact that Pakistan lost over USD 6087 million in terms of absolute losses in 2012 and the statistics were more or less the same for the year before as well. According to a 2006 World Bank report “Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment” the country secured the bottom place in Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) in South Asia due to exponential growth in population, a pro-pollution industrial infrastructure in place, mismanagement of natural resources and an inadequate ability to deal with environmental stress. It further suggested that environmental degradation is responsible for 6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) loss to Pakistan on an annual basis. Moreover, it promptly highlights that almost two-fifth of the irrigated land is negatively impacted either due to salinity or water logging. The report promptly points out, that despite having similar agro-climatic conditions, Egypt’s wheat yields are three times higher than Pakistan. The same report then adds that mangrove cover has decreased from 160,000 ha in 1990 to 106,000 ha in 2003 respectively. This loss of mangrove cover has caused financial damages of worth USD 125 million to Pakistan and has affected over 135,000 people respectively. According to Climate Asia, an initiative of BBC Media Action, 27% of the Pakistani citizens are seriously worried about not having adequate food to eat and similarly, 14% lack access to adequate clean drinking water. Sadly, climate change will make situation more complex as in case of above average rainfall, there will be flooding which will destroy cash crops, as happened previously. The vice-versa scenario will further amplify stress on water availability, consequently, reducing the overall agricultural productivity.

There is a dire need that some serious steps should be taken by Government of Pakistan as a counter strategy. We cannot ignore the fact that it is the matter of our survival. The most practical approach would be to enhance the overall forest cover in Pakistan. Lester R. Brown in his book “World on the Edge: How to prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse” writes that the current forest cover in the Pakistan is 4 percent whereas in 1947, it used to be 30 percent. According to the World Bank statistics, neighbouring countries like India and China had 23.1 percent and 22.5 percent of forest cover respectively in 2011. Increasing the forest cover to an adequate level would serve as a simple solution to mitigate climate change.

In addition, it improves the overall state of public health, thus reducing the government’s direct and indirect expenses on this sector, which can then be invested further to improve the overall quality of life. Similarly, there is a dire need to build a series of dams to harvest rainfall and flood water effectively. This accumulation of water will not only prevent infrastructural loss, increase per capita water availability and will also allow the water to gradually seep into the ground to recharge the underground water tables, provided, the environmental impacts of dams are minimised to every possible extent.

At the moment, we are relying extensively on our underground water reserves and are consequently over pumping them. We need to reverse this trend as it will have severe consequences in years to come. Lester R. Brown further describes in his above mentioned book that in 1970’s, Saudi Arabia decided to be self-sufficient in wheat production and to achieve this target, started relying heavily on underground water reserves. Depending upon the same technology that enabled it to be the largest exporter of oil in world, it remained self-sufficient in wheat production for over 20 years.

However, in January 2008, Saudi’s had to make an announcement that the aquifer they were dependent on was largely depleted and that they will stop producing wheat domestically. During 2007- 10, wheat harvest declined by more than 66 percent in Saudi Arabia and this increased food insecurity forced the kingdom to buy or lease land in other countries for the same purpose. The same book then further adds that water level in wells are dropping a metre or more each year around Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Similarly, during last four decades, the storage ability of the both Mangla and Terbela have dropped by one third individually due to silt.

Government of Pakistan should strictly develop a policy focusing on increasing forest cover of Pakistan and to utilise surface water effectively, instead of relying on ground water aquifers. It is equally important to meet sustainability criteria’s for dams and reservoirs to reduce their environmental impacts. Moreover, Government should take strict preventive actions to regulate agriculture sector to drip irrigation method. Most importantly, school, high schools and universities curriculum should be designed with major focus on climate change, its consequences and how to manage available natural resources sustainably in order to raise public awareness on this issue. Only then we would be able to leave a society for our coming generations where they can prosper in harmony with nature.

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Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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