Sizzling Punjab dreads imminent heatwave

Published May 18, 2024
Students use an umbrella to protect themselves from direct sunlight during a hot day in Faisalabad, on Friday.—APP
Students use an umbrella to protect themselves from direct sunlight during a hot day in Faisalabad, on Friday.—APP

WITH the mercury alrea­­dy touching the dreaded 45-degree mark in many parts of Punjab, the three heatwaves forecast to sweep the province over the next four weeks will definitely test the limits of human and animal endurance, as well as the planning skills of provincial administrators.

The Met Office has predicted a further rise in temperatures by a sizzling six to eight degrees Celsius over the next few days. But although this pattern may not break previous records, it would certainly get closer to breaching them, says Shahid Abbas, the chief meteorologist stationed at Lahore

The warning is being considered serious in the context of its pattern: the heatwaves are expected to persist till mid-June and see repeated spikes. A few cities like Faisalabad and Sahiwal experienced 45 degree Celsius on Friday, and as the heat rises over the next few days, life will become extremely difficult in these areas.

Shorter hot spells are a routine occurrence for those living in the plains, but longer ones may spell massive trouble. The Met Office has already conveyed the situation to the departments concerned amid the hope that necessary steps are taken to mitigate the impact of the hot spells.

PDMA claims arrangements in place to deal with hot weather, but on ground reports present a different picture; farmers dread damage to cotton crop due to excessive heat

Irfan Ali Kathia, the director general of Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), lists the steps taken for mitigation.

He told Dawn that Bahawalpur, Bahawal­nagar, Rahim Yar Khan and Cholistan are likely to be the most affected. In all these areas, medical camps, water points and shaded areas are being ensured.

Water bowsers will also be regularly sent to areas deep in the desert to ensure availability of water for humans and animals, he said. The PDMA is also preparing a locally-made umbrella — like the ones distributed in Bangladesh recently to labourers working in the sun.

However, Dawn correspondents in all three districts reported no such activities in their respective areas.

“Apart from the mid-June warning by the Met Office, PDMA believes that the [heatwave], by and large, may last up to July before monsoon hits,” Mr Kathia said.

Farmers are also a worried lot, as early sown cotton, which is in a flowering stage, may suffer excessive shedding and the threat of burning. In this heat, maize and rice will need additional water.

“Even when they are running, canals meet around 30 per cent of the water requirement and have to be supplemented by tubewells. We are praying that the excessive heat does not bring loadshedding leaving tubewells without power. A prolonged hot spell would be an issue for farmers,” explains Abad Khan, a farmer from an area bordering south Punjab, which is expected to bear the major brunt of the heatwave.

But there is a silver lining; pests, even if they survive the extreme heat, will be too weakened to damage crops like cotton.

The sudden rise in temperature is also causing faster melting of glaciers in the country’s north, with rivers receiving 23,000 cusecs more water on Friday than the previous day.

National reservoirs held around 4.7MAF of water on Friday, as compared to 1.2MAF on the same day last year.

“It is due to this that the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has removed shortage in supplies to the province and they are now getting water as per their requirement under the circumstances,” says Irsa spokesman Khalid Rana.

Bahawalpur, the sprawling district that includes swathes of the Cholistan district, is already sweltering.

On Friday, roads were deserted and a majority of bazaars, shopping centres and markets remained closed. Though the faithful came out for Friday prayers, attendance was thin out of fear of heat stroke, especially among the elderly and children.

The General Bus Stand also looked deserted and private transporters said commuter numbers had considerably dropped due to the harsh weather.

Loadshedding and excessive heat in the day meant that markets remained empty, but as evening fell, more customers came out to shop, with watermelon and sherbet vendors making a killing.

In Rahim Yar Khan, where the temperature hovered around 42 degrees on Friday, there were fears regarding the sowing of cotton and the health of mango orchards.

Deputy Director Agriculture (Extension) Sheikh Yousuf Rehman told Dawn that the rising temperature would have an impact on sown cotton and mango orchards, adding that farmers should be vigilant about proper irrigation to save their cotton crop and mango orchards from the high temperatures. He also said that it was not recommended to use fertilisers in the hot weather.

Meanwhile, many inhabitants of Cholis­tan, including shepherds and nomadic tribesmen, have temporarily moved their herds to villages along the canals in search of water for their cattle. They are expected to remain there until the start of the rainy season at the end of July.

Majeed Gill in Bahawalpur and Irfanul Haq in Rahim Yar Khan also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2024

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