Global warming has ensured that weather conditions be pushed to their extremities, which we can clearly observe in Pakistan’s susceptibility to flooding and, conversely, droughts
The melting of glaciers in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral regions, an alarming rise in the water-levels, unprecedented torrential rains in the monsoon season, and an increase in the Arabian Sea’s surface temperature are just some of the effects of global warming and overall climate change in Pakistan. These major changes in weather and environmental patterns did not occur overnight, but are trends that have been observed over decades now.
Pakistan’s vulnerability to the catastrophic consequences of climate change can be assessed, to a certain extent, by considering its geographical location and the placement of its provinces. With a topography so diverse that it consists of coastal areas —where parts of lower Sindh and Balochistan dip into the Arabian Sea— permafrost and alpine regions, as well as temperate, tropical, and sub-tropical lands, the damage caused by unforeseen changes in climate can be vast.
The ever-rising temperatures, proven to be a direct consequence of global warming, and the presence of multiple glaciers in the mountain ranges of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan means glacial melting is a concerning reality; one that is causing rising water-levels and increasing the threat of avalanches wreaking havoc in the surrounding land.
While the problem of glacial melting is somewhat confined to the northern areas, the issue of heavy monsoon rains seems to be relatively pervasive. In August of 2020, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reported that, across Pakistan, 68 people had lost their lives, due to the heavy monsoon showers and subsequent flooding that affected areas in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan. The recurrence of disastrously intense monsoon seasons in recent years and the trickle-down effect of melting glaciers, are conditions that have ensured the swelling and overflowing of the five rivers that run through Pakistan’s landscape. This overflowing of rivers is what has caused massive amounts of devastation in the form of urban flooding and flash floods.
Not only has flooding in major cities such as Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, and Peshawar (to name a few) led to damaged infrastructure, but floods in rural areas have also adversely affected the fertility of agricultural lands and crop production. Since the threat of floods ruining crops and stripping agricultural land of its cultivability, through soil erosion, has become more solidified with the passage of each monsoon season, the effects of mass-flooding on overall agricultural productivity and food security has been called into question.
In August of 2020, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reported that, across Pakistan, 68 people had lost their lives, due to the heavy monsoon showers and subsequent flooding that affected areas in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Global warming has ensured that weather conditions be pushed to their extremities, which we can clearly observe in Pakistan’s susceptibility to flooding and, conversely, droughts. Drought conditions have become more prevalent and frequent in recent years, with a distressing rise in temperatures and unpredictable/decreased rainfall patterns being cited as the main reason behind them.
While the Tharparkar district in Sindh was known to be the most severely affected and was typically seen as the target which droughts would strike each time, it has now come to be observed that various parts in Sindh and Balochistan have also been suffering from annual spells of drought. Historically well-irrigated areas which would receive ample amounts of rainfall, to facilitate crop growth, are now being deemed too arid for farming due to frequently occurring droughts that have damaged the soil. In extreme cases, prolonged drought conditions can and have also led to desertification, which is a further deadening of the land that makes it incapable of sustaining any form of vegetation.
This is especially concerning because the agricultural sector accounts for a large portion of the economy of Pakistan, as it makes a hefty 21% contribution to the GDP and accounts for the employment of 45% of the country’s labor force. With the future of farming and crop growth being left in the balance —in the wake of extreme weather conditions and unpredictable rain patterns— increased food insecurity and malnutrition amongst vulnerable populations (children, in particular) has emerged as an indirect yet grave outcome of climate change in Pakistan.
The country’s agricultural system is heavily dependent on rainfall for irrigation purposes, but since global warming has disrupted rainfall patterns, increased variability of water availability has taken the form of another long-term and detrimental effect of global warming and climate change. Furthermore, the country has traditionally relied upon rainfall for the replenishment of its natural water resources. However, this reliance was also destroyed due to the rising temperatures and unusual rainfall patterns that accompanied climate change. Apart from the failure of regular rainfalls to replenish water sources, water pollution, the rapid depletion of groundwater, and the draining/drying of natural water resources have also resulted in increased water scarcity. Predictions have been made by researchers which suggest that Pakistan will be the most water-stressed country in the region by the year 2040.
In addition to an unwelcome increase in food insecurity, another indirect outcome of climate change has been recorded as increased energy insecurity, which can be directly linked to the fact that Pakistan’s water supply and natural water resources are being negatively impacted by climate change. With the country facing a growing water shortage, the power sector is also in danger of losing a major chunk of its contribution that comes from hydro-electric power generation. According to statistics noted in 2003, hydro-electric power accounts for 34% of the country’s total power generation, a loss that cannot be compensated unless Pakistan develops systems for generating other forms of sustainable renewable energy.
Perhaps the most recent and immediately observable manifestation of climate change is the thick layers of hazardous smog that envelop major cities during the winter months. This toxic smog is a product of smoke and overall air pollution which is, undoubtedly, seen as contributing to climate change, thereby making smog an indirect outcome of climate change as well. Afforestation efforts, unless intensified and magnified manifold, will not be able to reverse the damaging effects of the deforestation that has been carried out for the past few decades and neither will it help in purifying the air or combatting climate change. Now that government officials are beginning to recognize the fact that Pakistan is suffering through a climate change crisis, it is time for effective environmental protection policies to be drafted and for strong physical efforts be made to ensure the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
Global warming is the phenomenon that has given impetus to the process of climate change; a process which has prompted a series of events, such as the ones listed above. Like the first domino that falls and triggers a spiraling domino effect, global warming has resulted in rising temperatures, glacial melting, increasing sea-level, unusual rainfall patterns, which have, consequently, led to cases of widespread coastal erosion, urban flooding, spells of drought, water scarcity, decreased agricultural productivity, food and energy insecurity, and higher risk of natural disasters such as cyclones, avalanches, and landslides. All of these events are contributing to environmental degradation of a degree that cannot be countered and, in the event of being left unchecked, could dismantle entire ecosystems.
The writer is a graduate of LUMS and can be reached on Instagram at @sanateewrites_