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Opinion

January 24, 2015
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Long summers ahead

Opinion

January 24, 2015

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The threat of climate change is highlighted in various ways in Pakistan. Pakistan is a heat surplus zone and generally a water-scarce country with less than 1000 cubic meter per capita water availability.
Being an agricultural country, Pakistan is very sensitive to climate change. Even more vulnerable are rain-fed or barani areas – mostly to variations in rainfall and temperature. Unprecedented torrential rains have hit the country in the recent past. Uneven rain spells in 2010 and 2013 triggered floods which devastated large parts of the country. In 2014, unexpected rain spells came when the wheat crop was ready for harvesting or was being sun dried resulting in huge yield losses to the wheat growers.
Over the last few decades, Pakistan has suffered from unpredictable hydro-meteorological patterns attributed to climate change. Our country suffered from extreme drought during 1998-2002, one of the worst droughts in 50 years. The drought started in 1997 as El-Nino developed. It gained intensity in 1998 and reached its peak in 2000 and gradually weakened in 2002. This extreme drought also affected much of India and Afghanistan.
In Pakistan, the drought affected 26 districts of Balochistan and Sindh with severe famine affecting 1.2 million people. Another drought period was recorded in 2004 and 2005 which gripped the lower parts of Pakistan, mainly Balochistan and Sindh. Little damage was reported during this period possibly due to the moisture left in the soil by the floods in 2003. Another moderate drought hit the entire country, except Sindh, in 2009-2010.
The country witnessed another drought period during October 2014 and January 2015. Key aspects reflected in the Pakistan Meteorology Department’s Drought Monitor Update of January 1, 2015 are: extreme drought conditions in Sindh, moderate drought conditions in Balochistan, and mild drought in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Rainfall data of the post-monsoon period for 2014 indicate an overall

reduction in rainfall all over the country. The forecast for January 2015 is consistent with this trend.
A new study has been conducted by the Climate Change Centre at the University of Agriculture, Peshawar, which is being technically supported by the Livelihoods Program of Intercooperation funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation. The study, jointly conducted by the Pakistan Meteorological Department and Intercooperation in four districts, provides interesting findings on temperature and precipitation for the period 1981-2040. The results indicate both threats and opportunities for the farming systems of the country. According to the study, the summer season in the future will set earlier, will be more intense and much longer, nearly eliminating spring. Coupled with changing rainfall trends, there are implications in this for food production in these districts.
According to this study, in Haripur, the annual rainfall may continue to increase during the next two decades with a rate of four percent per decade from the rain recorded for the base-line period. This increase in annual rain however is due to more rains in spring. For the rest of the three seasons rains will decrease. The annual average temperature in Haripur will increase gradually. It will reach 22.77 degrees Celsius in 2040 compared to 21.32 degrees Celsius for the base period starting in 1981.
The average temperature of winter and summer will increase while the average temperature of spring will decrease. According to the report, these temperature trends, when seen together with the rainfall trends, show that Haripur will become dryer with time. Warmers winters will extend into spring, summer will set earlier resulting in a very short spring. Decrease in winter rainfall and increase in temperatures will impact the growth and productivity of winter crops due to water stress.
The study results for Swabi indicate that annual rainfall may continue to increase during the next two decades with a rate of five percent per decade from the base line. Winter rainfall, however, will decrease at a rate of 7.6 percent per decade. Spring and summer rainfall will increase at a rate of seven percent and 12 percent per decade, respectively. The annual average temperature will increase from 20.91 degrees Celsius for the base year in 1981 to 22.81 degrees Celsius up to 2040.
The summer season as well as autumn will get hotter while nights in winter and spring will become cooler. These findings indicate certain worries for winter crops, including wheat. Owing to a decrease in winter rains and subsequent increase in spring rains, the productivity of the wheat crop will be affected while the summer crops will benefit from increased rain in spring and summer.
The study also reveals interesting results for district Attock. In Attock, the annual rainfall may increase at a rate of five percent per decade. Rains in autumn and winter will decrease, while rains in spring and summer will increase at a rate of seven percent and 11 percent per decade, respectively. Annual average temperature will increase gradually from 21.79 degrees Celsius in the base period starting in 1980 to 23.49 degrees Celsius in 2040.
Autumn, winter and spring will get warmer, while the summers will get hotter. The nights, however, in both winter and spring will become cooler. The study suggests that the increasing early summer temperature will impact crop yields negatively. Yield of winter crops will further decrease owing to decreasing winter rains. Increased rain in spring and early summer, however, will benefit certain crops including groundnut. The insect pest occurrence may increase in groundnut due to increased water and humidity. The increased spring rains may result in improved pastures and better fodder for livestock.
For district Chakwal, the study indicated that the annual rainfall will increase at a rate of 8.5 percent per decade. The autumn and winter rainfall will decrease, while the spring and summer rainfall will increase. The annual average temperature will increase gradually from 22.16 degrees in 1980 to 23.56 degrees in 2040. The average temperature of winter will decrease, giving us colder winters, while the average temperature of autumn, spring and summer will increase showing an overall warmer temperature for the year.
The report shows that the changing climatic conditions in the country will have a number of implications for the farming systems. The maximum temperatures in all seasons are increasing in these four districts. The winters are becoming warmer, and in springs temperatures will rise fast, resulting in early summers. Therefore, the entire definition of four seasons in a year is changing.
The decrease in autumn and early winter rainfall will result in crop failure particularly wheat. More rainfall in spring will benefit vegetation growth. Therefore, greener pastures may affect harvesting activity negatively, impacting wheat production. In general, the study indicated shifting rainfall patterns, rising temperatures in summer, decreasing temperatures in spring due to more rain and a shift from diverse cropping patterns to a cropping mix with fewer crops.
The report suggests that climate change brings both threats and opportunities. We need to take climate change seriously and recognise the need to live with it. The change is too visible and cannot be ignored anymore.
Email: [email protected]

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