Climate Change, Pakistan Agriculture News

Experts call for research to assess impacts of heat waves on agriculture

HYDERABAD: Experts have urged for fresh research to assess the changes in the weather pattern, especially heat waves in Sindh and impacts on agriculture, food products, livestock, existing tree cover, status of freshwater bodies, overall water resources, soil fertility, and vegetation. Humans are the most vulnerable as many health-related problems arise out of exposure to excessive heat, they said during a discussion organised by Research and Development Foundation (RDF) the other day.

The programme attracted a selected group of experts, representing Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) Tandojam, Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA), departments of forest, agriculture, livestock and development organisations.

Speakers suggested linking heat waves emergency to already functioning World Bank-supported Sindh Resilience Programme, with special focus on developing shelter belt of tree plantation in various heat stroke pockets, ensuring rehabilitation of wetlands, forests and vegetation cover.

Sindh Resilience Project aims to mitigate flood and drought risks in selected areas and to strengthen capacity of government institutions to manage natural disasters.

Experts also suggested promoting public transportation, introducing wastewater recycling mechanism, establishing fully equipped heat emergency centres, supporting mud construction for housing schemes, and launching public awareness programmes for understanding and mitigating heatstroke at grassroots level.

Speaking of the 1,209 freshwater bodies in Sindh, some of which were declared Ramsar Sites, participants said these wetlands could help reduce heat through freshwater and natural vegetation.

It is worth noting that almost all important water bodies are dead either because their feeding source has been disconnected or they have been encroached for agriculture purposes. Only a few major lakes, including the largest Manchhar Lake are fighting for survival due to government negligence.

Altaf Mahesar of Basic Development Foundation (BDF), who works with farmers in Dadu district, pointed out the status of the arid zones Kachho and Kohistan, where vegetation has been at a low level due to continuing harsh weather, low rainfall and water scarcity. Kachho and Kohistan share borders of Dadu, Jamshoro, Thatta, Shahdadkot districts and parts of Balochistan province.

“Some 20 years back, Kachho communities dug wells manually to use groundwater, but now they cannot do so, because the water table has gone down, which has affected human life as well as the surrounding flora and fauna,” Mahesar lamented. Masroor Shahwani of Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (Sida) said officially their organisation has taken over three major canals, formed farmer organisations (FOs) to run affairs of watercourses smoothly to use water sustainably and maintain water bodies.

However, he informed that some irrigation department officials continued intervening and instigated people to cut trees along the canals and watercourses, which left the local residents vulnerable to disasters.

Deforestation and depletion of vegetation are also responsible for heat waves, participants of the discussion said, and criticised the governments, which allotted forest land to politically connected people for cultivation. The landlords cleaned entire forests and now after almost 30 years there is no sign of tree cover. Methods to retrieve forest lands from landlords for reforestation and maintaining ecology were also discussed.

RDF Executive Director Ashfaq Soomro, who has assisted local communities in Tharparkar, Sanghar, Dadu, Tando Allahyar and Mirpurkhas districts to plant trees and establish groves, expressed hope that the recommendations would enable the government authorities to formulate proper policies to avoid natural calamities and save natural resources.

SAU Tandojam Prof Ismail Kumbhar said that besides extreme heat and rising temperature, wind storms were another phenomenon, which quite recently also affected agriculture, human life, natural vegetation, and water resources.

He pointed out that there was need to conduct fresh studies to assess the damage caused by sea erosion. Data from the last 30 years suggested that 2.2 million acres of land was swallowed by the sea. “However, the situation is worst now and coastal communities are facing problems to save their fertile lands and human settlements,” he said, and urged for fresh assessments to quantify the land lost to sea erosion. Prof Kumbhar attributed this loss to the low waters in the deltaic region of the Indus River. “Earlier, the river used to stream the whole year. Then it changed its course to flow in the months of February or March pushing the sea back, and providing freshwater to the islands,” he said. For a few years, the river does not have enough water to flow in to the sea. “Now we are not even sure if the water will come downstream to the delta at the end of June to benefit the people with fresh water and maintain marine ecology,” the professor added.

The participants also discussed the vulnerability of livestock to heat waves, which inflict losses on herders. There is no mechanism to encourage relevant officials to visit livestock holders and extend help to save their animals through proper intervention. SEPA Deputy Director Muneer Abassi said their department was under pressure as people usually expected them to perform beyond their capacity and powers. He said they receive frequent calls to stop tree cutting in Hyderabad city neighbourhoods, demanding to take action against people involved in such crimes. He proposed public awareness programmes to avoid effects of weather changes.

The News