‘Climate change may cause food insecurity’

Post Source:  By Mukhtar Alam – Dawn Correspondence

KARACHI, July 11: A UK-based environmentalist expecting exceptional implications of climate change for the coastal city of Karachi and other parts of the province in socio-economic sectors has suggested certain measures to the government to prevent drought, water shortages, rising sea levels and infrastructure disruption. In his report submitted for a climate change project funded by the Deputy British High Commission in Karachi, climate change expert Matthew Savage said that the climate change could result in food insecurity with the erosion of coastal and agricultural lands.

He added that the Upper Indus Basin, which meets much of the water demand for Karachi and Sindh province, might experience reduced flows due to melting glaciers after 2050.

He said Karachi was likely to experience an average increase in temperature of up to 3.9 degrees centigrade by the end of this century. While the country’s overall climate would become warmer than the global average, the increase in temperature in the north would be somewhat higher than in the south. This increase was expected more in winter than that in summer.

Mr Savage added: “Changes in precipitation will not be as significant. However, the monsoon is likely to become more variable, with some projections stating a later onset, characterised by more intense downpours.”

Changes in temperatures and precipitation would cause frequent droughts, flooding and an increase in sea levels. “There will also be more extreme weather events, such as coastal cyclones,” the report said.

According to him, Karachi may however face the threat of rising sea levels by 2100, and therefore better monitoring and data collection is required to calibrate models correctly.

Mitigation steps

Mr Savage suggested to local administrations that more saline-tolerant species of mangroves should be planted, and there should be a strict control on the removal of mangrove trees.

He noted that the local administrations had already been engaged in the initiatives, which support increasing resilience to the negative impacts of climate change – which included improvement of storm drainage to cope with extreme weather events – protecting coastal mangrove areas to prevent coastal flooding and salt water intrusion, improving the efficiency of water storage and distribution, and developing more efficient irrigation.

The environmentalist also highlighted the need for behavioral changes, stating that people should not use natural resources carelessly otherwise the next generation would have to suffer from their scarcity.

He said that deforestation along with a substantial increase in the number of motor vehicles and industrial zones and increased reliance on thermal power generation had contributed significantly to the rapid changes in the global climate.

Mr Savage said that the city district government of Karachi and the Sindh government were undertaking a number of initiatives that would contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. These include encouraging low carbon power generation, improving energy efficiency in buildings, reducing emissions from landfill sites, and encouraging clean fuels and public transport.

Coordination unit

He called for bringing the activities that contributed to reducing emissions or increasing climate resilience together under a more strategic climate change framework. A climate change coordination unit should be developed to integrate these issues into the city master plan, to access climate change finance and coordinate with policy-makers.

The British government-funded project undertaken by the Oxford Consulting Partners Ltd last year was aimed at reviewing the implications of climate change, both from a mitigation and adaptation perspective for the City District Government of Karachi, with reference to the wider issues faced by the Sindh province and the regional environment department.

“Karachi is the largest and the fastest growing city of Pakistan with a population of over 16 million (2006). The population is expected to reach 27 million by the year 2020. Karachi contributes approximately 65 per cent of the national GDP and is projected to become a city of international scale and importance over the coming years. The ability of the city to limit the growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and protect itself against the negative impacts of climate change will be central to its sustainable economic success,” said the report.

Under the project, sector-wise strategies and city district master plan were also reviewed by the consultants from climate resilience and low-carbon growth perspectives.

Past and current trends

The report said that Pakistan already suffered a high level of climatic stress due to extreme heat and relatively low levels of precipitation between 1961 and 2008. Pakistan’s climate has been classified into 11 zones ranging from mild moist winters and hot dry summers in the north to semi-arid and arid zones in the west and parts of the south. Most of the country receives rainfall during the monsoon between June and October.

Since the early 1900s, there has been an increase of one degree centigrade in average temperature in the coastal areas of Pakistan. The cold and warm night temperatures have been increasing over most of Pakistan, in line with changes experienced over much of Central and South Asia, since 1961.

Coastal belts and arid inland plains have experienced between 10 per cent and 15 per cent decrease in annual average rainfall from 1979 to 2005. This is in contrast to the mountainous north of Pakistan where rainfall in the summer and winter has been increasing, according to the report.

Over the recent years, the onset of the summer monsoon has become increasingly variable. The rainfall has arrived in shorter and more intense bursts.


By 2020, mean annual temperatures are likely to increase by about 1.5 degrees centigrade in the north of Pakistan and by 1.1 degrees centigrade along the coast. Such increase is likely to be high in the pre-monsoon season and low during the monsoon.

Climate projections for Pakistan by 2080 indicate between 2.8 degrees centigrade and five degrees centigrade increase in temperature over the north of the country and from 2.1 degrees centigrade to 3.9 degrees centigrade over coastal regions, depending on the rate of change in global GHG emissions. The temperature increase is expected to be the highest in the west of Pakistan in the spring and in the far north during the peak monsoon season.

These changes are likely to cause flooding, drought, shift in monsoon pattern, and sea levels rise and thus adversely affect a range of social, environmental and economic systems.

Flooding, drought

Annual flooding following monsoon rains can cause significant disruption in Karachi and other parts of Sindh. This is usually the result of heavy precipitation events resulting from monsoon activity or cyclones from the Arabian Sea. These cyclones are expected to increase in frequency and severity with the projected increase in average temperature.

Increased variability in rainfall patterns is resulting in drought-like situation particularly in the south west of the country. Besides, significant proportions of lands in Sindh are also uncultivated due to water shortage.

Drought is likely to be driven in the long run by a decline in glacial melt-water flows fed by the Upper Indus Basin.

Melting glaciers

Glaciers in Pakistan cover 13,680 square kilometres and contribute more than 60 per cent of water flow to the region. Glaciers are melting under increased temperatures, resulting in a temporary increase in flows of the Indus River.

However, World Bank studies indicate that these glaciers will be depleted by 2050, resulting in a decrease of flows by 30pc to 40pc over the later half of this century. Given the dependency of both Karachi city and Sindh province on the Indus for irrigation, this should be of paramount concern in urban water planning and rural irrigation.

It is projected that sea levels will be up to 60cm higher than the current levels by 2080 although more recent evidence suggests that the rise may be as much as one millimetre. Large areas of coastal and low-lying land are vulnerable in Pakistan, especially in Karachi and other parts of Sindh.

Socio-economic impact

Food insecurity is likely to occur as salt water intrudes into coastal agricultural lands, rendering them less fertile and less productive. In addition, nursery areas for fisheries could be affected due to inundation and coastal erosion. The climate change will have multiple implications for the socio-economic sectors. Some of the sectors vulnerable to climate, according to the report, are agriculture (which affects both livelihoods of rural people and GDP); trade, transport and communication (due to heavy rainfall); manufacturing (dominated by textile/cotton crop); hydro-electric generation (due to projected increased climate variability); construction (due to adverse weather conditions); health (in view of climate sensitive vector borne diseases, displacement of populations caused by floods); water resources (affected by droughts, flooding and variability and intensity of monsoon).


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