Climate Change and Water Resources in Pakistan – Latest News – The Nation


Climate change is one of the most inescapable issues of our time. It affects the earth in many ways; water scarcity is one. Climate change and the depletion of water resources have a deep relationship. An article titled “Water and climate change: 10 things to know” published by UNICEF highlights ten water-related challenges; climate change can cause problems for humanity. It is said in the aforementioned article that “from 2001 to 2018, 74% of natural disasters were water-related such as floods and droughts”. He further mentions that the deterioration of the climate would intensify the seriousness of water-related problems. It would be relevant to explain the water challenges in Pakistan as a result of climate change. The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 placed Pakistan in the top ten countries; most vulnerable to climate change. The geography of Pakistan includes the Indus Plain, the Northern Highlands and the Balochistan Plateau.
Pakistan mainly depends on the Indus Basin irrigation system. The Indus River and its tributaries provide surface water to the Indus Basin. Glacial, snowmelt and monsoon precipitation are important sources of water flow in the Indus basin. About 180 billion cubic meters of water are supplied by the Indus basin of which 165 billion cubic meters come from the western rivers (Indus, Chenab and Ravi) and 15 billion cubic meters from the eastern rivers. According to a report, irrigation canals consume 90% of the water and the rest is diverted to the industrial and domestic sectors. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s per capita water storage capacity is 150 cubic meters, which is less than that of India, China, Morocco and the United States. Moreover, Pakistan’s ability to store water in the Indus basin is limited to only 30 days.
An interesting book titled “Water Resources of Pakistan: Issues and Impacts” discusses Pakistan’s water issues in detail. This book is composed of different research papers covering various dimensions of water problems in Pakistan. Chapter six of this book titled “Pakistan’s Water Resources in the Age of Climate Change” explains the link between climate change and Pakistan’s water resources. More importantly, this chapter illustrates the threats of climate change that can directly affect water resources. Five significant climate change threats have been identified, including increased temperature, erratic rainfall, floods and droughts, melting glaciers and rising sea levels, and water intrusion from sea ​​in the Indus delta.
First, we talk about the threat of rising temperatures. The authors of the sixth chapter mention the study by Su Buda, J. Huang, et al. which augurs for the continued rise in temperatures in the Indus basin. They used different Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) like RCPs 2.6, 4.5 and 8.5 to determine the mean annual temperature over IB (Indus Basin). The three RCPs projected an increase in annual mean temperature, but at different levels. RCP 2.6 projects an increase of 1.2°C, RCP 4.5 projects 1.93°C and RCP 8.5 shows an increase of 2.71°C over the period 2046-2065. Similarly, the same RCPs show a temperature increase of 1.1°C, 2.49°C and 5.19°C respectively between 2081 and 2100.
Second, it is important to discuss erratic precipitation patterns. Precipitation is one of the important parameters for assessing the water balance of the climate. Su Buda, J. Huang et al. investigated the future of annual precipitation patterns over the Indus basin. Under RCPs 2.6, 4.5 and 8.5, they analyzed the middle (2046-2065) and the end of the 21st century (2081-2100). Putting RCPs 2.6, 4.5 and 8.5 ahead, the results suggest a mid-century increase of 3.2%, 0.1% and 6.2% respectively. Furthermore, the same ROEs predict an increase of 5.6%, 4.0% and 7.8% respectively at the end of the century.
Third, extreme events like floods and droughts are also a big threat to Pakistan. As we know, intense rains cause floods and their shortage paves the way for droughts. Floods in Pakistan are mainly driven by heavy rains during the monsoon. The report of the Federal Flood Commission shows that from 1950 to 2009, Pakistan suffered a huge $20 billion loss due to floods. In addition, the flood severely damaged an area of ​​407,132 km2. Various studies hint at the possibility of drought in Sindh and Balochistan.
Fourth, the melting of glaciers is another challenge of climate change. The Himalayan, Hindu-Kush and Karakoram ranges shape the highlands of northern Pakistan. The Hindukush-Himalaya region is known as the “Asian water tower”. The Hindu Kush-Himalaya region influences regional and global climate systems. The Indus basin consists of 18,495 glaciers and the area covered by IB is approximately 21,192 km2. Palpably, 80% of the flow of the Indus is provided by glaciers and snowmelt in the upper Indus basin. Climate change is causing glaciers to shrink, including in the Hindukush and Himalayan ranges. Importantly, glaciers and melting snow provide water to one-sixth of the planet. Pakistan is heavily dependent on the Indus River for its domestic, industrial and agricultural needs. The impact of climate change on glaciers would affect water availability.
Finally, climate change affects sea level and causes seawater intrusion in the Indus delta. Sea level rise would open the way to flooding and affect agricultural land productivity. It can make seawater intrusion possible which consequently leads to land erosion. According to one study, seawater interaction has reduced Sindh’s total cultivable land by 12%.
Climate change poses a serious threat to water resources. The availability of water is essential for the industrial, domestic and agricultural development of the country. Rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, melting glaciers, floods, droughts and rising sea levels are the results of climate change. Pakistan lacks vision to fight against climate change on the one hand and lacks managerial skills on the other hand. Water scarcity and poor water management are detrimental to the country’s survival. Some of these measures are mentioned in the aforementioned chapter six. First, raising awareness about climate change and water management is the need of the hour. Second, a strong early warning system must be in place. Third, progressive farmers must receive incentives. Fourth, an effective governance system is needed for capacity building, inter-provincial cooperation and water pricing. Fifth, water quality and renewable energy must be a priority. Sixth, heat resistant crops should be grown. Last but not least, climate adaptation policies must be implemented.

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