The climate threat
In a recent report, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has laid out the sheer scale of the challenge posed to Pakistan’s economic future by climate change. Problems with the ADB’s own understanding aside, the bank has noted correctly that Pakistan’s capacity to store freshwater is poor compared to its regional counterparts. Pakistan can only store about 11.3 percent of the freshwater that passes through its rivers every year. China, by comparison, has a freshwater storage capacity of around 29.3 percent. This makes us one of the least water secure countries in the region. The threat is most significantly for our agricultural economic base, which must worry for its future once temperatures start to rise. Already, climate change is among the chief factors for the changing weather patterns, including heatwaves and unpredictable rainfall, which put crops at risk every season. Rainfall is expected to decline by 20-50 percent by the time the current century begins to turn.
The threat is certainly not limited to Pakistan. Afghanistan, China and India face similar risks. This is why shared cooperation and new knowledge for less water intensive crops are in order. The impact of the rising temperatures will begin with high levels of water flow, which could cause heavy flooding due to glacial melting. This would be followed by periods of drought. The pattern has been witnessed on a smaller scale in the last decade or so; but such spells could continue for years at end in the future. Amongst the most affected will be children, with the number of malnourished children going up by almost seven million. Food scarcity already exists in various parts of the country, but this could become more severe. The needs going forward are simple enough. The entire world – minus the US – has agreed to abide by the Paris climate change accord. This means reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, especially the most polluting ones. These supplies themselves will come under the threat of a climate change induced struggle for resources. While some of the report may sound alarmist, such as the prediction of an eight degree increase in temperatures in the region, there is enough reason to be alarmed. We should be prepared for the most dramatic of climate challenges. Instead, we are in a situation where the country is barely prepared for milder climate change events. Sustainable development that accounts for the impact of climate change is possible – but it needs very serious planning on the part of the government.