Climate Change: One More Problem for
Indus river, originating on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing
for nearly 2,000 miles through the disputed territory of
Jammu and Kashmir and finally down to the province of Sindh
and out into the Arabian Sea, is key to life in Pakistan.
The majority of Pakistan’s
190 million people are involved in agriculture: the Indus,
fed by glaciers high up in the Hindu Kush-Karakoram Himalaya
mountain range, provides water for 90% of the country’s
facilities based on the Indus generate around 50% of
Pakistan’s total electricity.
Climate change is now
threatening this vital waterway – and the future of millions
in Pakistan. In recent weeks it has launched, in
collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP), its first ever national policy on climate change.
“Pakistan is among the most
vulnerable countries facing climate risks”, says Marc-Andre
Franche, the UNDP’s Pakistan director. ”Mechanisms need to
be devised for greener, more resilient options for growth
and sustainable development… the climate change clock is
ticking too fast and the time to act is here and now.”
Pakistan’s scientists say that in order for the new policy
to be effective a number of steps need to be urgently taken
to mitigate the impacts of climate change. These include
developing high temperature-tolerant crop strains,
comprehensive flood warning systems and more reservoirs on
the upper Indus. But there are serious doubts about funding
for such schemes.
Ghulam Rasul, chief
meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department,
says weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic. In
the 1999 to 2002 period Pakistan was hit by severe droughts
as the flow in the Indus and its tributaries fell
But from 2010 to 2012 a
series of unusually intense monsoons caused the Indus to
burst its banks, resulting in widespread floods: thousands
were killed and millions displaced.
agrarian economy now faces larger risks from variability in
monsoon rains, floods and extended droughts”, says Rasul. “I
urge the world to assist Pakistan to deal with climate
Economy at risk:
According to data gathered
from 56 meteorological stations throughout Pakistan, there
has been a marked increase in heat waves and rising
temperatures in the vast Indus Delta in recent years.
In an article in the Pakistan
Journal of Meteorology, Rasul and others say there is a
greater incidence of tropical cyclones and of saline
intrusion in coastal regions. Already wheat and banana
harvests in the Indus Delta are being affected..
Rising temperatures are also
causing health problems among the area’s population. In many
cases farmers in the region - among the poorest people in
the world – are abandoning their lands and migrating to
already overcrowded cities.
If this trend continues it
could have devastating consequences for the wider economy.
Sindh and the Indus Delta have become one of the world’s
premier cotton-producing areas, feeding Pakistan’s
economically vital textile industry. Falling cotton
production in the region would not only hurt Pakistan: it
would also trigger a substantial rise in world cotton
Meanwhile in the mountainous
far north most glaciers are in retreat, though some in the
Karakoram range are stable or even – for as yet unknown
reasons – expanding. Experts say that while melting glaciers
might offset temperature rises and act as a form of
insurance against drought in the short term, the long term
prognosis is not good.
David Grey, former senior
water advisor at the World Bank and now visiting Professor
of Water Policy at Oxford University, says that although
there is insufficient data to come to an accurate long term
assessment of what will happen to the Indus, there are deep
“We all have very nasty fears
that the flows of the Indus could be severely, severely
affected by glacier melt as a consequence of climate change.
Now what does that mean to a population that lives in a
desert – without the river, there would be no life? I don’t
know the answer to that question”, he says. “But we need to
be concerned about that. Deeply, deeply concerned.”