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Mounting threats from climate change

Updated February 09, 2015

The year 2014 was the hottest ever since humans started monitoring weather conditions in the year 1880, according to four international agencies monitoring global temperature trends.

These four agencies are: two US (NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), one Japanese (Japan Meteorological Agency) and Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The year has surpassed all previous scorchers — 1998, 2005, and 2010. More worryingly, except for 1998, as per NASA’s claim, all 10 hottest years recorded in human history came in the first 14 years of the current century.

Fortunately, the major rise in temperature was occasional, and soil, by and large, escaped the impact. However, it was fourth hottest year for the land as well. For scientists, another concern was the absence of El Niño (which usually accelerates the already up-trend in global average temperature) in 2014. This year (2015), El Niño is part of meteorological forecast, which may improve the heat record further this year.

The report complicates things for agri-businesses around the globe. The US Security and Exchange Commission has told big food and agri chains to regularly furnish reports of global warming impact on their businesses to their investors on stock exchanges. If the agri-businesses start suffering, as fears are — the extent of impact is though still being debated between companies and investors — the farmers and farming would be first to feel the heat, and it would be especially true for countries like Pakistan.

These extreme weather events could cause a direct loss of 2-30pc in agricultural yields — depending on the severity of the event in a particular year, say researchers

The report has not come in a vacuum for Pakistan. Its own official agencies have also been studying the trend (variations in temperature and frequency and severity of weather-related events) and have drawn almost similar conclusion that organisations around the world are warning of.

Two years ago, the Federal Ministry for Environment, in its report — vulnerability to climate change threats — identified a series of such pressures that farming in Pakistan would face due to changing weather patterns. It identified nine areas, where they would impact human life in the country.

Out of the nine areas, where, according to report, threat perception was increasing, six were directly related to agriculture. They included considerable rise in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (droughts, floods, un-timely and heavy rains); recession of glaciers due to global warming and carbon soot deposits from trans-boundary pollution; increased silt in dams caused by frequent, flash and intense floods; increased temperature resulting in enhanced heat- and water-stressed conditions, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions; intrusion of saline water in the Indus delta, threatening coastal agriculture and mangroves and tension between upper and lower riparian in water stress periods. These were on the top of carbonaceous filth that, it warned, has started mixing into Indus water, pouring in from glaciers, and would have hazardous consequences for life of every kind in the water ways. The activity was noted on all three mountain ranges — the Hindukush, the Karakoram and the Himalaya — that feed Pakistani rivers.

According to researchers, these extreme weather events could cause a direct loss of two to 30pc in agricultural yields — depending on the severity of the event in a particular year — and it would be especially true for cereals (wheat, rice and maize). Given Pakistan’s increasing population at almost unknown rate, the country needs an annual increase of 5-10pc in those cereals for its own food security, leave alone exploring exports potential. This would be a herculean task, given Pakistan’s archaic technological and farming practices. In the last ten years, the frequency of flash floods, extreme rains, severe droughts, shifting of monsoon season, which gives Pakistan 80pc of its irrigation water and matures water-loving crops like rice, is increasing and threatening crops like never before.

All the climatic changes documented by different federal, provincial and academic agencies need to form basis of planning for agriculture for the next few decades. The agriculture pattern and practices, as we know them for the last few millenniums, are bound to undergo changes because of weather factors.

The world is trying to adjust to these new realities by measuring the rate of change, and then developing policy and technological responses to those changes. Pakistan cannot be an exception. The scientists insist that rice is already suffering in quality and quantity due to temperature variations, along with other factors.

Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, February 9th, 2015

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