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Threat of drought still looms

August 12, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Aug 12: Just when the threat of above normal showers and heavy floods have abated, environmentalists are warning of an equally bigger abnormal weather phenomenon.

“Drought is likely to grip the country. This may affect water availability for our next winter wheat crops,” said Advisor (Met and Climate Affairs) and Vice President of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Asia-Region, Ministry of Defence, Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry.

It’s not just inaccurate rain predictions by the Meteorological Department Islamabad about 15 to 16 per cent above normal showers in this monsoon that have convinced environmentalists to fear for drought conditions in the coming months.

“There is worldwide evidence of lesser rains and abnormal climate patterns threatening global food crisis. The USA that supplied nearly half of the world’s export of corn and much of its soybeans and wheat, is passing through its history’s worst drought since 1956,” said Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry, who also gave the examples of drought conditions in parts of Russia, Canada, Australia and Brazil where harvest outlooks had been downgraded.

According to the Ministry of Climate Change, the situation was no different in neighbouring India, the world’s second biggest producer of sugar, cotton and rice that was also experiencing the failure of monsoon.

India has received 36 per cent below average rains in key crop growing areas in north and had officially declared drought conditions.

The Ministry said that India’s 84 reservoirs were filled to 19 per cent capacity that would likely affect their next wheat crop, forcing the country to resort to its reserve inventory from last year.Nonetheless, last week the warning came when the Ministry of Climate Change received a document from the World Meteorological Organisation. The letter, available with Dawn, impressed upon authorities that Pakistan was also experiencing low monsoon rains, and so far these were largely below normal.

“Water levels in our reservoirs are the lowest in many years. This may affect water availability for the next winter wheat crops,” the two-page document cautioned.

All this analysis indicated that the world was fast heading towards another global food crisis. Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry drew recalled the 2007-08 crises that sparked food riots in more than 30 developing countries, the expected shortages may surpass that level.

Dr Chaudhry who was also a former Director General Meteorological Department of Islamabad believed that in order to save the country from the adverse impacts of this global food crisis, concerned authorities needed to develop appropriate contingency plans and to see how best to deal with its minimum impacts on Pakistan and particularly on poor people.

“The outlook is not very promising despite rains in August. Next five to six months can be critical if the dams are not filled to capacity,” said Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry elaborating how water in Simli Dam had only 15 to 20 per cent water and Khanpur Dam was only 20 to 25 per cent filled to capacity.

The Minister for Climate Change Rana Muhammad Farooq Syed Khan said that he was meeting the president of Pakistan in a few days to discuss the concern.

“The ministry has already written to him apprising him of the situation. We will particularly like to ask him to build up reserves for at least two years by cutting down exports of wheat, sugar and rice in order to prepare for the worst,” said the minister explaining how Mangla Dam was already 120 feet empty and the situation in Tarbela Dam was no better.

According to the minister, wheat prices in the world were already high. “We don’t want to face a situation where we have to import and tackle smuggling of sugar, wheat and rice like few years ago,” said Rana M Farooq Syed Khan.