Climate change and water resources in Pakistan

Climate change is one of the most unavoidable issues of our time. It is affecting the earth in multiple ways; water scarcity is one of them. Climate change and depleting water resources have a deep relationship. An article titled “Water and Climate Change: 10 things you should know” published by UNICEF sheds light on ten water-related challenges; climate change can pose problems to humanity. It is said in the aforementioned article, that ‘from 2001 to 2018, 74 percent of natural disasters were akin to water such as floods and droughts. It further mentions that the deteriorating climate would intensify the severity of water-related challenges. It would be pertinent to explain the water challenges to Pakistan following climate change. The global climate risk index 2019 placed Pakistan in the top ten countries; most vulnerable to climate change. Pakistan’s geography consists of the Indus River Plain, the Northern Highlands, and the Balochistan Plateau.
Pakistan mainly depends upon the Indus Basin irrigation system. Indus River and its tributaries provide surface water to the Indus basin. Glacial and snowmelt and monsoon rainfall are important sources of water flow in the Indus basin. Approximately, 180 billion cubic meters of water is provided by the Indus Basin of which 165 billion cubic meters come from western rivers (Indus, Chenab, and Ravi) and 15 billion cubic meters from eastern rivers. According to a report, irrigation canals consume 90 percent of water, and the remaining is diverted to industrial and domestic sectors. Sadly, the per capita water storage capacity of Pakistan is 150 cubic meters which is less than India, China, Morocco, and the US. Additionally, Pakistan’s capacity to store water in the Indus basin is confined to only 30 days.
An interesting book titled “Water Resources of Pakistan: Issues and Impacts” discusses Pakistan’s water woes at length. This book is composed of different research papers covering various dimensions of water issues in Pakistan. Chapter six of this book titled “Pakistan’s water resources in the era of climate change” explains climate change’s nexus with the water resources of Pakistan. Most importantly, this chapter illustrates the threats of climate change that may have a direct bearing on water resources. Five important threats of climate change have been identified including temperature rise, erratic precipitation patterns, floods and droughts, glacier melting and sea level rise, and seawater intrusion in the Indus Delta.
Firstly, we talk about the threat of rising temperatures. The authors of the sixth chapter mention the study of Su Buda, J. Huang, et al. which augurs the continuous rise of temperature over the Indus basin. They have used different representative concentration pathways (RCPs) like RCP 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5 to ascertain the mean annual temperature over IB (Indus Basin). All three RCPs have projected a rise in annual mean temperature but at different levels. RCP 2.6 predicts a 1.2°C rise, RCP 4.5 projects 1.93°C, and RCP 8.5 shows a 2.71°C increase during 2046-2065. Similarly, the same RCPs show rise in temperature by 1.1 °C, 2.49°C, and 5.19 °C respectively during 2081-2100.
Secondly, it is important to discuss erratic precipitation patterns. Precipitation is one of the important parameters for evaluating climate water balance. Su Buda, J. Huang et al. have studied the future of annual precipitation patterns over the Indus basin. Under RCPs 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5, they have analysed the mid (2046-2065) and late twenty-first century (2081-2100). Putting RCPs 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5 before, the findings suggest a rise of 3.2 percent, 0.1 percent, and 6.2 percent respectively in the mid-century. Furthermore, the same RCPs predict a rise of 5.6 percent, 4.0 percent, and 7.8 percent respectively in the late century.
Thirdly, extreme events like floods and droughts are also a big threat to Pakistan. As we know that intense rain leads to floods and a shortage of it paves way for droughts. Floods in Pakistan are mainly motivated by heavy rainfall during monsoon. The Federal Flood commission’s report shows that from 1950 to 2009, Pakistan witnessed a whopping $20 billion loss due to floods. Furthermore, the flood badly damaged an area of 407,132 km2. Various studies hint at the possibilities of droughts in Sindh and Balochistan.
Fourthly, glacier melting is another challenge of climate change. The Himalayan, Hindu-Kush, and Karakoram ranges shape Pakistan’s Northern Highlands. The region of Hindukush-Himalaya is known as the “Asian Water Tower”. The Hindu Kush-Himalaya region influences regional and global climate systems. The Indus basin comprises 18,495 glaciers, and the area IB covers is around 21,192 km2. Palpably, 80 percent of the flow to the Indus River is ensured by the glacial and snowmelt in the upper Indus basin. Climate change is shrinking the glaciers including in the Hindukush and Himalaya ranges. Importantly, glacial and snowmelt provide water to one-sixth of the world. Pakistan heavily relies on the Indus River for domestic, industrial, and agricultural needs. The impact of climate change on glaciers would affect water availability.
Lastly, climate change is affecting the sea level and causing the intrusion of seawater into the Indus Delta. Rising sea level would pave way for floods and mar the productivity of agricultural land. It may make seawater intrusions possible which consequently leads to the erosion of land. According to a study, seawater’s interaction has reduced 12 percent of the total cultivable land of Sindh.
Climate change poses a serious threat to water resources. Water availability is direly needed for the industrial, domestic, and agricultural development of the country. Rising temperature, changing precipitation patterns, glacier melting, floods, droughts, and rising sea level are results of climate change. Pakistan lacks the vision to combat climate change on the one hand and lacks managerial skills on the other. Shortage of water and mismanagement of water both are deleterious to the country’s survival. Some of the measures are mentioned in the above-mentioned chapter six. First, making people aware of climate change and water management is the need of the hour. Secondly, a robust system of early warnings must be put in place. Third, progressive farmers must be given incentives. Fourth, an efficient system of governance is needed for capacity building, cooperation among provinces and water pricing. Fifth, water quality and renewable energy must be a priority. Sixth, heat-resistant crops must be grown. Last but not least is that climate adaptation policies must be implemented.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt