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Talking about the weather

Opinion

April 30, 2019

Extreme weather events have become a new normal in Pakistan, and are leaving a harmful impact on human life and economy.

The unusual rainfall witnessed recently in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad is a clear demonstration of extreme weather events which have caused irreparable damage to wheat crops in southern Punjab and parts of Potohar.

Not only this, as the summer starts, the Pakistan Met Department has already warned of an extremely hot summer particularly in Sindh (in fact, a heatwave is expected this week in Karachi). One can, without any second thought, say that the predominant reason behind all this is attributed to climate change. In Pakistan, particularly, extreme weather events are a serious matter of concern and not only require a dedicated research effort from the scientific community but also an effective communication of this research to policymakers for timely and effective adaptation strategies to minimize losses in the future.

A study conducted at the Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC) by Dr Shaukat Ali, ‘Assessment of climate extremes in future projections downscaled by multiple statistical downscaling methods over Pakistan’ published in ‘Atmospheric Research’ journal, provides a comprehensive analysis of the present and future extreme weather events in Pakistan.

The study clearly demonstrates an increasing trend in temperature rise in Pakistan at a rate higher than the global average temperature rise. This increase in temperature is highest over the northern parts of Pakistan and also highlights the vulnerability of the region in terms of glacier melting in the future. Moreover, the study projects an increasing trend in the occurrence and intensity of warm weather events while a decrease in cold weather events is expected in the future.

In addition to the north, Sindh too is projected to be highly susceptible to dry and warm conditions in the future with an increase in warm days and maximum temperature. Along with that, a decrease in precipitation is projected which poses a threat of heatwave and drought in different parts of the province in the future.

In response to the changing climate in Pakistan, the intensity and frequency of heavy precipitation events is likely to increase in future in different parts of the country. In particular, the regions of north Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab display an increasing trend in extreme precipitation events. This could have a widespread impact on human life and economy due to flood risk and the resulting loss in agricultural productivity.

The southern parts of the country – Sindh, Baluchistan and Southern Punjab – would see more dry conditions which could make the regions drought-stressed in the future. Not only this study, but also the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has forecast fewer but intense precipitation events which will cause more flooding but less groundwater recharge, hence highlighting the water scarcity the country could face in the future.

These extreme weather conditions had been a constant dilemma in Pakistan over the last decade and are projected to exacerbate in the future as indicated by research. The implications of this rise are huge, whether in terms of harm to life, damage to the economy, loss in agricultural productivity or a constant threat to society as a whole. In this regard, a sophisticated knowledge of future extreme events is indispensable so as to provide complementary information to policymakers which can then influence effective decision-making and infrastructure planning.

Also, the improvement of early warning and emergency response capacities for extreme climate events is pivotal to minimize the harm. Apart from this, public awareness of climatic extremes risk through mainstream media, social media networks and educational activities is also essential to make the people aware and so minimize causalities. But all of this find its roots in reliable research conducted by the scientific community. Therefore, it is highly recommended to conduct studies to further explore climatic extremes in more detail.

In this regard, another research project funded by the Asia Pacific Network on Global Change (APN), titled ‘Towards robust projections of extreme events and adaptation strategies over South Asia’ is underway in the GCISC. The project involves research collaboration from Bangladesh, China, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, United States and Italy. The theme of the project is to elucidate the basic scientific questions regarding extreme events in the South Asian region and to identify the vulnerabilities in the region and development of national and regional adaptive management plans/strategies and their implementation in a robust way. Since this project involves collaboration between developed and developing countries, by the end of the project valuable knowledge will be transferred from developed countries to developing countries.

From the results of the project, each participating country will understand impacts, vulnerability as well as adaptation options from their own perspective by precisely quantifying major risks emerging from increasing extreme climate events. Collaboration of climate experts with government agencies and local research organizations will enable streamlining of future climate projection products and regional issues on sustainable development. Hence, it would be a significant contribution not only to the scientific knowledge base but also in facilitating better identification as well as development of adaptation strategies leading to reduced vulnerability of the region to negative impacts of extreme events in the future.

The writers are researchers at the Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC). Email: [email protected]

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