November 6, 2021

By Xari Jalil

Changes in weather conditions have become so erratic in Pakistan over the past few years, that in a agriculture based economy like ours, one of the worst hit have been farmers. In other words, if it is to be seen how much climate change has affected people in the country, a look at how farmers are faring will show how vulnerable we are.

Once upon a time, farmers could speculate entire seasons just by monitoring the rain cycles. But now, rain patterns have changed to such an extent that from irrigation to sowing for the next season, nothing is clear. Several have moved away from farming, others have migrated to other areas, causing huge changes in demographics – as well as unemployment.

A large part of Pakistan has dried out over the years because of these changing rain patterns. Now for any season, farmers have to work out irrigation methods, especially for barani (rain-fed) crop. This reliance on rainfall as a major method of irrigation has left them in trouble, and has resulted in not just economic loss for the farmers, but it is also a huge food security issue. Even a delay of rain for around 20 to 30 days in the weather forecast is a problem.

Then there are issues like the changing weather. This year the month of October was hot, but the onset of cold weather was sudden. Farmers say that the crops that were sown in October due to temperature conditions, will now be shifted to November. Shifts like these change the crop cycle of the entire year. Now it is not just one crop that is late, the entire year’s plantation cycle will be moved ahead. And these shifts also tend to generate diseases like ‘rust’, that happens due to excess moisture in the form of rain and humidity.

Of late there has also been an attack of the fall-army worm. Many farmers fear that the worm which may be left behind in the ground, will affect the next crop. A total of 90 plants are its host plants including maize. Because potatoes are the next crop grown on the same land, the entire crop can be affected. Again this can bcome a big threat to national food security.

Pakistan was counted by Germanwatch Institute as one of the five countries most affected by climate change in the world. These results of the Global Climate Risk Index 2020 were presented by the Institute during the COP25 in Madrid.

In the last 50 years, the annual mean temperature in Pakistan has increased by roughly 0.5°C. The number of heatwave days per year has increased nearly fivefold in the last 30 years. Annual precipitation has historically shown high variability but has slightly increased in the last 50 years, and sea level along the Karachi coast has risen approximately 10 centimetres in the last century. Even though these numbers do not seem like much, their impact is tremendous.

A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) says that by the end of the century, the annual mean temperature in Pakistan is expected to rise by 3°C to 5°C for a central global emissions scenario, while higher global emissions may yield a rise of 4°C to 6°C. Average annual rainfall is not expected to have a significant long-term trend but is expected to exhibit large inter-annual variability. Rain patterns have already been changing for some time.

Sea level too is expected to rise by a further 60 centimetres by the end of the century and will most likely affect the low-lying coastal areas south of Karachi toward Keti Bander and the Indus River delta.

Under future climate change scenarios, Pakistan is expected to experience increased variability of river flows due to increased variability of precipitation and the melting of glaciers.

There is no other way to say it. The future is bleak. Demand for irrigation water are expected to increase due to higher evaporation rates. Yields of wheat and basmati rice are expected to decline and may drive production northward, and that too subject to availability of water.

At the same time, water availability for hydropower generation may decline, even as hotter temperatures will put pressure on energy demand. Heat waves could end up with higher mortality rates.

By the year 2100, if temperatures continue to rise in the same way, it will mean that at least 36 per cent of the glaciers along the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan range will be gone.

Combating climate change cannot happen in a day. But the time to start is now. Otherwise it will just be too late.


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