The coming disaster

Published January 22, 2024

THE snowless winter in Indian-held Kashmir and neighbouring Ladakh is said to be unprecedented. It is the result of an extreme weather event that might significantly affect water availability in the Indus Basin system, which is the lifeline of Pakistan’s agriculture and economy. Environmentalists have long been cautioning that the phenomenon of rapid global warming is soon going to cause severe water scarcity across the region, including in Pakistan, which is one of the world’s 10 countries most affected by the impact of rapid climate change. The glaciers of the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges, a major source of water for Pakistan’s rivers, are already receding at a fast pace because of rising temperatures. The snowless winter in the region could further affect the flow in connected river systems, bringing the day of reckoning ever closer, as snowmelt is a major source of river water in these parts. The reduced flows in the western rivers of the Indus Basin system, the Jhelum and Chenab, allotted to Pakistan under the World Bank-brokered water-sharing treaty with India and originating from or passing through the Indian-held Kashmir and Jammu region, will, owing to extreme weather events, likely increase tensions in the area, besides affecting farming in large swathes of our part of Punjab and in Sindh.

As temperatures increase, the glaciers will melt more quickly, and less snow will fall each year to replenish them. Though accelerating glacial melt could mean more water in the short term, as experts have pointed out, it will also increase long-term shortages. Among other things, that means a decrease in per capita water availability, an increase in variability in annual river flows, a reduction in the discharge into the sea and thus greater seawater intrusion, and other related issues. Over the last couple of decades, Pakistan has seen a rapid increase in extreme weather events, resulting in devastating floods, prolonged droughts in different parts of the country, urban flooding, heatwaves, and frequent forest fires. The changing climate has already increased food insecurity in the country and the coming water shortages are going to exacerbate the situation unless urgent measures are taken to mitigate the adverse effects of shifting weather patterns and the challenges resulting from it. The future predicted by scientists and other experts is already here, and we have little time to waste.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2024

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