Climate Change: One More Problem for Pakistan
By Kieran Cooke, Climate News Network
The Indus river, originating on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for nearly 2,000 miles through the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir and finally down to the province of Sindh and out into the Arabian Sea, is key to life in Pakistan.
The majority of Pakistan’s 190 million people are involved in agriculture: the Indus, fed by glaciers high up in the Hindu Kush-Karakoram Himalaya mountain range, provides water for 90 percent of the country’s crops. Meanwhile hydro-power facilities based on the Indus generate around 50 percent of Pakistan’s total electricity.
Fisherman on the Indus river, South Pakistan.
Credit: International Rivers/flickr
Climate change is now threatening this vital waterway — and the future of millions in Pakistan. In recent weeks it has launched, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), its first ever national policy on climate change.
“Pakistan is among the most vulnerable countries facing climate risks”, says Marc-Andre Franche, the UNDP’s Pakistan director. ”Mechanisms need to be devised for greener, more resilient options for growth and sustainable development… the climate change clock is ticking too fast and the time to act is here and now.”
Pakistan’s scientists say that in order for the new policy to be effective a number of steps need to be urgently taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change. These include developing high temperature-tolerant crop strains, comprehensive flood warning systems and more reservoirs on the upper Indus. But there are serious doubts about funding for such schemes.
Ghulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, says weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic. In the 1999 to 2002 period Pakistan was hit by severe droughts as the flow in the Indus and its tributaries fell dramatically. But from 2010 to 2012 a series of unusually intense monsoons caused the Indus to burst its banks, resulting in widespread floods: thousands were killed and millions displaced.
“Pakistan’s climate-sensitive agrarian economy now faces larger risks from variability in monsoon rains, floods and extended droughts”, says Rasul. “I urge the world to assist Pakistan to deal with climate change.”
Economy at Risk
According to data gathered from 56 meteorological stations throughout Pakistan, there has been a marked increase in heat waves and rising temperatures in the vast Indus Delta in recent years.
Flood waters in Pakistan, 2010.
Credit: DVIDSHUB via Climate News Network
In an article in the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology, Rasul and others say there is a greater incidence of tropical cyclones and of saline intrusion in coastal regions. Already wheat and banana harvests in the Indus Delta are being affected.
Rising temperatures are also causing health problems among the area’s population. In many cases farmers in the region — among the poorest people in the world — are abandoning their lands and migrating to already overcrowded cities.
If this trend continues it could have devastating consequences for the wider economy. Sindh and the Indus Delta have become one of the world’s premier cotton-producing areas, feeding Pakistan’s economically vital textile industry. Falling cotton production in the region would not only hurt Pakistan: it would also trigger a substantial rise in world cotton prices.
Meanwhile in the mountainous far north most glaciers are in retreat, though some in the Karakoram range are stable or even — for as yet unknown reasons — expanding. Experts say that while melting glaciers might offset temperature rises and act as a form of insurance against drought in the short term, the long term prognosis is not good.
David Grey, former senior water advisor at the World Bank and now visiting Professor of Water Policy at Oxford University, says that although there is insufficient data to come to an accurate long term assessment of what will happen to the Indus, there are deep anxieties.
“We all have very nasty fears that the flows of the Indus could be severely, severely affected by glacier melt as a consequence of climate change. Now what does that mean to a population that lives in a desert – without the river, there would be no life? I don’t know the answer to that question”, he says. “But we need to be concerned about that. Deeply, deeply concerned.”
Kieran Cooke is a co-editor for Climate News Network. Climate News Network is a news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and broadcasters. It delivers news and commentary about climate change for free to media outlets worldwide.
Change in climate is mainly attributed to the unabated increase in greenhouse gases, including fluorinated gases, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, whichbring changes in rain pattern, temperature, and negative effects on water and land resources, floods, and droughts. Climate change is considered to be a global phenomenon; however, its impacts are more widely felt in the developing countries, due to their greater vulnerabilities and lesser ability to mitigate the effects of climate change. Because most developing nations—including Pakistan—are agriculture-based economies, their agricultural sector is affected the most due to direct exposure to nature. Therefore, the major impact of climate change is on agricultural production due to changes in rain pattern, temperature, floods, droughts, and negative effects on water and land resources [1,2]. In the developing states (such as Asia and Africa), the latest work has progressively considered the impacts of climate change on agricultural production [1,2].
Food security and water availability are highly vulnerable to the rapidly changing climate. During the summer season, most of the climate models expected that rainfall will increase [3,4]. The Himalayan glaciers (75%) are melting, and will disappear by 2035. The reduction or escalation in the intensity may result in droughts and floods, respectively . Climate change will affect crop productivity, and can thus cause food security problems [6,7,8]. It has been expected that global warming will increase yields due to “fertilizer effect”, but will influence poor farmers negatively. For example, countries closer to the equator will have reduced production due to global warming . African countries will experience extreme droughts and a further shortage of food. If climate change affects the productivity of the agriculture sector in the lower-income countries of Asia or Africa, a large number of people will be at risk, and the problem of food insecurity will increase. Climate change is the main driver of food security in the developing world, because it affects the productivity of the agriculture sector, its stability, and other components of the food system, including storage, access, and utilization .
Generally, climate change has minor effects on global food production, but these effects are unevenly distributed geographically. Most of the losses are suffered in lower-income countries, such as those in arid and sub-humid South Asia and Africa. These regions are engaged in subsistence agriculture, and are not technically sound or financially strong enough to abate the negative impacts of climate change. Moreover, they have almost no potential for adaptation . This adversely affects the people in these countries because of their dependence on agriculture for their livelihood. According to estimates of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the global number of undernourished people is 795 million. This shows a decline of nearly 200 million over the last 20 years . South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa constitute most of the world’s hungry population ; the most vulnerable region to climate change is South Asia . In South Asia, more than 70% of the people (approximately 1.1 billion) live in rural regions dominated by agriculture, and almost 75% of these people are poor . More importantly, nearly 18% of the region’s GDP is comprised of agriculture, and the industry employs more than 50% of the population . In addition, climate change can pose threats to agriculture and food security by changing the spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall, water availability, land, capital, biodiversity, and terrestrial resources. Due to changes in agricultural production, it could potentially cause food uncertainty for 9 billion people by 2050. Research shows that regional and global water requirements can be altered due to climate change and can trigger a shortage of water for agricultural purposes.
Studies reveal that increasing temperature and the changing pattern of rainfall have a substantial impact on food production [8,15,16]. A recent study anticipates that the wheat production of South Asia will decline by 50% by 2050—equal to almost 7% of the global crop production .
The Peterson Institute states that agricultural production in developing countries will further fall between 10% to 25% and global warming will decrease the agricultural capacity of India by 40% if it continues unabated . Hence, climate change causes serious threats to food security [6,19,20,21], negative impacts on productivity of different crops, the food supply [22,23], and the cost of adoption of climate change is high .
Therefore, food security has remained a prominent policy of Pakistan’s government. Wheat, rice, and maize are the main food crops, and sugar cane is the main cash crop of Pakistan. Therefore, food security policy mainly focuses on the production of these crops. In light of the above deliberations, this study aims to examine the nexus between climate change (maximum temperature, minimum temperature, rainfall, humidity, and sunshine) and the yield of major crops including wheat, rice, maize, and sugarcane.
Review of Literature
Study of global climate models (GCMs) projects reveal remarkable alterations to regional and globally averaged precipitation and air temperature, and these alterations will probably have associated impacts on groundwater recharge. A researcher predicts that the rainfall pattern, river flows, and sea levels all over the world will be affected due to climate change over the next century . Remarkable changes in the climate system may severely affect the agricultural yield over the next hundred years.
The increase in climate change is recognized as a global anomaly with potentially long-lasting implications, corresponding with more frequent extreme weather episodes . Such climatic alterations are assumed to affect people residing in agricultural communities of developing countries . Only 10% of annual global CO2 is emitted by developing countries, and yet they are the most susceptible to climate change . The large population in South Asian countries is dependent on rural economies based on agriculture; hence, these areas are especially affected by climate changes. This causes serious threats to their social, economic, and ecological systems . The World Bank’s South Asia Climate Change Strategy announced that the poorest people in the region will be affected the most by climate change due to limited assets, unfavorable geography, and a greater dependence on climate-sensitive sources of income. Extreme weather events at high frequency in the region in recent years (e.g., flash floods in Pakistan and India) are thought to be directly associated with climate change and are likely to keep the poor in a perennial poverty trap .
It is expected that the majority of the impact of climate change will affect the agriculture sector the most due to its vulnerability . The variability in climate change presents a major challenge to agricultural production and rural livelihoods, as it affects approximately 2.5 billion people who are partially or completely dependent on agriculture. The agricultural sector is highly dependent on alterations in climatic conditions, thus making it a dangerous activity [31,32,33,34].
Global agricultural production is challenged by climate change . Climate change affects different crops and regions differently, but it is generally expected that agricultural productivity will decline . In fact, some decline can already be seen. According to one calculation, climate change resulted in the reduction of global maize yield by 3.8% between 1980 and 2010 . Farmers were not threatened evenly compared to crops, but they were the most vulnerable group to climate change . Economic losses from extreme weather conditions are increasing due to climate change . It is projected that average temperature will increase and patterns of rainfall will change. Consequently, it is likely that more intense events and floods will occur in the coming decades. This will greatly affect the community in terms of rescue operations, loss of human life, damage to assets, and disruption of business . It is difficult for the government to pay for the damages. Crop productivity is affected by climate change, with serious implications for food security . Global warming has been hypothesized to boost yields, as increasing atmospheric carbon acts as a fertilizer effect, but the impacts are probably negative overall for poor countries. For instance, there will be a reduction of food production in countries near to the equator due to global warming . There will be extended droughts and food shortages in African countries. There will be more poverty and other social troubles in Pacific Islands and Indonesia, as these countries are more dependent on imports. A recent International Water Management Institute (IWMI) study forecasts that wheat production in South Asia will decline by 50% by 2050 .
The agriculture sector is highly dependent on alterations in climatic conditions, thus making it a dangerous activity. Climate variability is a major source of risk for agriculture and food systems. The increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather have extensively flawed agriculture . Farmers are regularly facing natural disasters, capricious rainfall, and pests. For example, farmers are encountered with heavy rains, floods, pests and diseases , droughts and market price variations . According to a report on production, financial, marketing, legal, environmental, and human resources are significant sources of risk factors in agriculture .There are five major risk factors, as follows: production risks linked with changes in crop yields and livestock from many sources (i.e., unpredictable weather conditions, disease incidence, and pests). Secondly, there are financial risks, such as a farmer’s capacity to pay their bills to sustain farming and avoid liquidation. Thirdly, marketing risks, which involve variations in the prices of agricultural products. Fourth, there are legal and environmental risks, and finally there are narrow human resources (i.e., a lack of family members to play the role of labor and farm management). As a consequence, there is a negative impact on production, leading to huge production losses. It is therefore important for farmers to perceive and regulate production risks appropriately .
The results of the study show that more than 50% of farmers were risk hostile in nature, and they had high perceptions about floods. In case of economic loss, flooding is the most calamitous natural disaster. All studies revealed that farmers were the most affected in terms of damages to crops, water contamination, irrigation systems, livestock, and other agricultural operations. Moreover, losses in farm yield and security increased due to the negative impacts of floods on agricultural systems. The same results were obtained by [42,43]. Due to these tremendous losses to agriculture production in 2010, 2011, and 2014, farmers considered floods and heavy rains to carry much greater risk than other natural disasters. This high risk-perception of farmers resulted in a high-risk-averse attitude in farmers. The results for risk aversion were related with the findings of . They announced that the majority of farmers in their studies were risk averse in nature. Education was crucial among socioeconomic factors because it affected the risk aversion behavior of farmers. Educated farmers may be capable of successful perceptions and adoption to minimize or avoid risk due to their understanding and knowledge. These findings for the link of education with risk aversion are correlated with the following findings . According to their study, most of the educated farmers in the Philippines were risk averse in nature compared to illiterate farmers. The same findings for education and risk attitudes of farmers were also reported in . However, some have reported a contrary relationship . They described that as their education augmented, farmers were less risk averse in nature. In terms of experience, our findings showed that there is more risk aversion in highly experienced farmers as compared to those having less experience. Experienced farmers are less likely to confront the natural disasters because of their indigenous knowledge about prevailing environment and weather conditions. These findings are also related to the findings of others (e.g., ). Their results illustrated that there is more risk aversion in highly experienced farmers as compared to less-experienced farmers.
It was also revealed that there was more risk aversion in farmers with greater high risk perception as compared to those with lower perception. Risk perception is a very crucial signal in the disasters literature. Individual and community responses to natural disasters can be illustrated, and a positive link is found between public response and adaptation to natural hazards . This means that when the risk perception of farmers directly affects the risk aversion of farmers, they will adopt risk minimizing strategies. For example, farmers having high risk perception of floods prefer to cultivate off-land and to practice diversification as agricultural flood-risk management tools . In the same way, farmers may use diversification in income, precautionary savings, and diversification in crops and many other farm risk management tools in before and after disaster situations.
Large farmers have more land and greater diversification of income and crops. Therefore, the dummy for the farmer category reveals that large subsistence farmers have less risk aversion as compared to the small subsistence farmers. Hence, farmers’ socioeconomic factors and other disaster-related factors play basic roles in determining their risk attitude. After the 2005 earthquake and major floods in 2010, Pakistan still has poor disaster management, preparedness mitigation, and institutionalized coping strategies. It is significant that disaster risk reduction and preparedness should be a national priority. Moreover, it is obligatory that disaster-prone areas should be included in government support programs. The interests of the farming community can be secured by such policies initiated by government .
Agriculture and food security can be affected by change in climate for many reasons, such as the rainfall distribution and the availability of capital, water, biodiversity, land, and global resources. This may increase doubts on the food chain ranging from farm to fork and result in trade dynamics, and eventually affect the global economy, food security, and the capability to nourish 9 billion people by 2050. Modeling by International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA) showed that irrigation requirements at the regional or global level may affect the climatic conditions, agricultural water withdrawals, and future socioeconomics . It is also observed that this irrigation requirement may increase by up to 45% by 2080. Even with upgrades in the irrigation system, overall there may be 20% water withdrawals increases. Global irrigation supplement with change in climate will boost by 20% above the reference base case scenario (exclusive of climate change). The reproduction shows that climate change largely affects irrigation water requirements globally similar to the increase in irrigation due to socioeconomic development. Climate change has little impact on global food production, but its geographic distribution is uneven. For example, there are more losses in Africa and South Asia representing arid and sub-humid areas  and specifically in poor countries with less ability to adapt to climate change .
Dry hot summers and freezing cold winters prevail in Pakistan. The geographical characteristics of the country are divergent; the country has high mountains (mountainous systems in the north, center, north-west, and south-west), plateaus in the center, and plains, deserts, and a lengthy coastline in the south west. Each geographic location is characterized by different climatic conditions; some regions are very cold, and some are very hot, while some of them remain moderate all year. However, the historical data shows that there is less precipitation in this region as compared to adjacent areas. The country has a rich river water system, which is the major source fulfilling agricultural water requirement . The role of agriculture is very important in ensuring food security and decreasing poverty. Temperature increase can affect agriculture through its effect on cropping seasons, the increase in irrigation, the increase in evapotranspiration, and the increasing effect of heat stress on crops. Short duration crop varieties, cultivating, and modification in crop sowing time may reduce the negative impact of the aforementioned climatic threats .
Because of disparate climatic conditions, the susceptibility index of climate change in Pakistan is very high as compared to several countries around the globe. Recently, the country has faced climatic changes including enhanced temperature, variations in precipitation pattern, weather shift, floods, earthquakes, and more. Pakistan—though not a major contributor to emissions that have resulted in creating the climate change situation—has a high vulnerability index. The needs for its adaptation to new changes are very high . Since 2010, the agricultural sector in Pakistan has faced three gigantic floods that had overwhelming effects on the whole economy, and predominantly the agriculture sector. A massive destruction in 2010, 2011, and 2014 to agricultural crops, livestock, forestry, and fisheries occurred due to monsoon floods and also caused damage to key infrastructure such as animal shelters, tube wells, fertilizers, houses, water channels, people, seed stocks, and agricultural equipment. Before the harvesting season of the main crops including wheat, rice, maize, sugarcane, and vegetables, a devastating flood occurred. An approximate loss in production of 13.3 million tons was recorded due to the yield loss of major crops. Standing crops worth 2 million hectares were destroyed, while 1.2 million livestock including poultry were lost to the flood of 2010 . Another gigantic flood came in 2011 in the provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh that severely affected these provinces and also the people living in them in the sense of loss of lives, particularly concerning to agricultural activities and issues. About 80% of the population living in the rural areas of Sindh is reliant upon agricultural activities for their livelihoods, fisheries, crops, forestry, and livestock . The flood ruined standing crops of rice, sugar cane, vegetables and pulses, sorghum, cotton, and livestock, along with heavy losses of lives in 2011. For instance, around 115,500 livestock were killed; about 5 million livestock survived, but they were also obliquely affected through disease and dislocation. The predictable total loss was US$1840.3 million, out of which 89% was direct damage and 11% indirect victims. The maximum damage (about US$1.84 billion) happened in the agricultural sector, predominantly to livestock and fisheries. The total damage of US$3.7 billion has been estimated due to floods in 2011. The total cost of US$2.7 billion has been estimated for revival and rehabilitation . More than 2.5 million people were affected by heavy rains and floods, and 367 persons died in the current floods in September 2014. Furthermore, 250,000 farmers, 129,880 houses, and more than 1 million acres of cultivated land were affected. The cost of recovery and resilience building were estimated at US$439.7 million and US$56.2 million, respectively . These statistics demonstrate that agriculture was the sector most affected by floods in Pakistan.
There is great interest in adaptation, which leads to several definitions of climate adaptation. It is defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “The adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities”. Others focused on a much broader definition, which is accompanied by any action which improves the situation of society caused by climate change . The previous literature indicates that a certain level of drought and improper use of land might have an impact on the local agriculture, whereas the losses due to disaster can be reduced by the rational management of land use . For example, a long-term land use policy was needed to counter the negative impacts of climate change in Malaysia . Similarly, several ways were found to cope with climate change, such as the use of modern seeds , changing plantation dates, and changing the type of farming in South Africa . In China, it was shown that the government tried to adapt to climate changes over the past decade by starting nationwide projects of reforestation, which provides substantial environmental benefits .
Efforts to sustain the global food system are suffering from the serious challenge of agricultural vulnerability to climate change. The negative impacts of climate change such as increase in temperature and variation in rainfall are expected to lower the benefits for production of the agricultural sector . The Midwestern US Corn Belt contributes substantially to this system through the production of more than one-third of the world’s supply of corn. The agriculture sector of the US is contributing substantially to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and is vulnerable to change in patterns of weather, diseases, and pests .
Adaptation to climate change is taken to reduce the negative impact of climate change. Moreover, adaptation could be classified into spatial (both localized and widespread), and may also be in the form of behavioral, technological, institutional, informational, and financial adaptations . The Kyoto Protocol and IPCC agreed that adaptation has different forms . Adaptation has been explained in terms of vulnerability to climate change. Hence, adaptation to climate change is linked with the perception of what climate change is. This is how individuals or groups have to respond to the change in climate. The perception of an individual depends on her experience and knowledge and the observed impact of climate change. For instance, when there was a change in temperature in 11 African countries, the farmers changed crop varieties, increased conservation of water, and switched to non-farm activities . On the other hand, when there was change in precipitation, they changed planting dates. Similarly in a study conducted for South Africa and Ethiopia including 1800 farmer households, it was observed that the strategies commonly adopted by farmers consist of planting different crops and varieties, cultivating trees, practicing soil conservation, and changing dates of planting and irrigation . However, it was observed that farmers who did not adopt any adaptation strategy revealed that lacking credit, lack of information, and access to land were the major factors which obstructed them from adapting to perceived change in climate .
Pakistan is deemed to be one of the highly vulnerable countries to climate change, as reported by . It was ranked 21st by the Global Climate Risk Index (GCRI) in terms of exposure to extreme weather conditions for the period from 1993 to 2012 . Pakistan was listed as the twelfth-most highly exposed country to climate change by the World Bank . The economy of Pakistan is based on agriculture, which contributes 19.8% to the GDP to and employs about 42.3% of the labor force, and is providing livelihood opportunities for approximately 62% of the rural population . Besides its importance for Pakistan, this sector is facing serious challenges from changes in climate, such as rise in temperature, droughts, floods, and losses in yields . Over the last few decades, the effects of climate change have become apparent, with mostly lower-income countries being affected . Pakistan is experiencing extreme climate events including high temperatures, floods, shortage of water, droughts, and increased attack of diseases and pests . The ranking of Pakistan with respect to climate change vulnerability is bad, as it stood at 29th in the list of most vulnerable countries for 2009–2010 and ranked 16th in 2010–2011 by the Global Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) . The severe floods starting from 2010 to 2014 and droughts ranging from 1999 to 2003 are among the few examples related to climate events of Pakistan. It is expected that climate change will have an adverse effect on the economy of Pakistan, as extreme weather events are already occurring, such as changes in rainfall patterns, droughts, and floods . Pakistan is especially vulnerable to change in climate due to its dependence on natural resources. Thus, appropriate adaptation measures are need .
Therefore, looking into the current and the future expected changes in climate, this study is planned to examine the effects of climate change in terms of maximum temperature, minimum temperature, relative humidity, sunshine, and rainfall on the major crops of Pakistan. This study is important, as Pakistan is vulnerable to climate change and the food security situation across the country is not very good.