The drastic effects of climate change

August 21, 2022

A change in the weather patterns has affected the orchards in Chitral

The drastic effects of climate change


roduction of fruits, particularly apples, is considered a lifeline for a majority of people in many villages of Upper Chitral. “However, those growing the fruit to put food on the table are worried about their future as soaring temperatures and flash floods have badly affected their orchards,” laments Abdur Rehman, a farmer in Booni area of Mastuj.

Rehman says that his family has been associated with fruit farming for decades. He says it is their only source of income. However, recent changes in the weather patterns, heat waves and irregular rainfall have given the Chitral valley a new climate. Those traditionally associated with fruit farming are in a shock. Not only have the fruit yields declined but the taste of the fruits has also been affected.

Apple and apricot farming is an important source of cash for farmers in Chitral. Apples constitute 26 percent of the fruit production and are regarded as a cash crop. These are followed by apricots, another cash crop that makes 19 percent of the total fruit production.

Royal Gala and Kala Kalu varieties are considered the best for their bright colour, pleasant aroma, long shelf life, firmness/ crunchiness and uniform size. Some valleys in the district are famous for other varieties of apples. For example, Garam Chashma/ Karimabad are famous for Khurduzhi, Kala Kalu, Royal Gala and Golden varieties; Booni for Choupush, Kala Kalu, Royal Gala, Golden; Mastuj and Brep for Choupush, Kala Kalu and Royal Gala.

Muslim Ali Shah, 68, a retired range officer from Booni, a small village in Mastuj tehsil, says that apples and apricots are a crucial source of income for the people of Chitral.

Shah worries that an abrupt increase in temperature has caused the glaciers to melt early and has resulted in flash floods. “Flash floods have wreaked havoc in the valley where hundreds of farmers have lost their apple orchards laden with the fruit,” he says.

Shah says that Bindo-Gol glacier lake, northwest of Chitral town, at an altitude of about 4,572 metres, has already burst. The Reshun glacier in Reshun valley at an altitude of 4,100 metres, and Oxhoor glacier at an elevation of 4,300 metres in Gharam Chashma have also melted and destroyed corps, livestock and roads.

Home to about half a million people, Chitral has 542 glaciers covering nearly 13 percent of the area. Around 40 percent of the district’s population is vulnerable to the threat of glacial lake outburst floods.

Hassan Shah, another farmer from a remote village of Booni, says the amount of production of apples and other fruits is the same as it was years before. “However, the hot weather does not allow the farmers to store the yield. The fruits ripen ahead of the normal harvest dates.”

Muslim Ali Shah, a retired range officer, says he has been raising the alarm about the climate change for four decades. However, he says, the people never paid any heed to his warnings.

The drastic effects of climate change

Apple and apricot farming is an important source of cash for farmers in Chitral. Apples constitute 26 percent of the fruit production and are regarded as a cash crop. These are followed by apricots, another cash crop that makes up 19 percent of the total fruit production.

He recalls that a few years ago the temperature in his village never went above 26°C “but now due to the climate change Chitral has recorded 42°C. It is the highest ever temperature in the history of the valley. It is alarming for all of us.”

He says Chitral is famous for its fruit production that is dependent on cold weather. However, the soaring temperature and abrupt flash floods have brought a sudden shift in the weather patterns of the valley. This has affected the fruit farming cycle due to which hundreds of tonnes of fruits, especially apples have been wasted. “In a few years farmers in Chitral might not be able to sell or store any fruits, The increasing heat is causing the fruits to ripen early.”

He suggests that farmers should consider growing other fruits, such as kinno, rather than limiting their investment to apples. Chitral valley, he says, is becoming an area with similar average temperatures as the rest of Pakistan.

He says the government should take the issue seriously and legislate for environment protection. Talking about climate change related disasters in Chitral, Shah says flash floods had also occurred in 1985. “However, the number of such incidents has increased since 2005, mostly due to human activity.”

Syed Kamran Hussain of WWF-Pakistan says that abrupt melting of glaciers results in an unsustainable flow of water. This adversely affects orchards.

He says the probability of flash floods that could uproot and wash away the fruit trees, along with the fertile soil has increased. “High melting ratio of glaciers will also lead to water scarcity during dry spells. For fruit farming and horticulture practices, sustainable flow of water is necessary.”

Hussain points out that flash floods are also a serious threat to human lives and livestock. He says, “the immediate and short-term solution is to evacuate people from the threatened areas. This can be the areas that have been affected by floods due to glacier outburst in the last two decades.”

He says that effective early warning systems could play a useful role in natural disasters like floods. “Mosques can also be used for the purpose,” he says, adding, “a sustainable and long-term solution is improving the vegetation cover by planting more trees and adopting bio-engineering structures along with other nature-based solutions.”

Advocate Syed Shafiq Sultan, a resident of Upper Chitral, says Chitral is known across the world for its fruit production. “However, the drastic change in the climate and irregular rain patterns have become a nightmare for fruit farmers of the valley.” Sultan says since fruits grow and ripen in a particular temperature range, the sudden rise in temperature has affected the taste of apricots and apples.

Aisha Khan, chief executive officer of the Mountain and Glacier Protection Organisation, says there is a dire need for starting a conservation campaign in the Chitral valley to cope with the drastic situation. “Public awareness and government action might lessen the mounting threat of glacier bursts and flash floods to some extent.”

The writer focuses on environmental issues. He is based in Islamabad

The drastic effects of climate change