Climate change and the heatwave
Pakistan is vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change which has occurred due to rapid industrialisation with substantial geo-political consequences. According to German Watch, Pakistan has been ranked in the top ten countries most affected by climate change in the past 20 years. The reasons behind this include the impact of back-to-back floods since 2010, the worst drought episode from 1998-2002 as well as more recent droughts in Tharparkar in Sindh and Cholistan in Punjab, the intense heatwave in Karachi (Southern Pakistan generally) in July 2015, severe windstorms in Islamabad in June 2016, increased cyclonic activity and enhanced incidences of landslides and Glacial Lake Outbursts Floods (GLOFs) in the northern parts of the country. Pakistan’s climate change concerns include increased variability of monsoons, the likely impact of receding Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan glaciers due to global warming and carbon soot deposits from trans-boundary pollution sources, threatening water inflows into Indus River System, severe water-stressed conditions particularly in arid and semi-arid regions impacting agriculture and livestock production negatively, decreasing forest cover and increased level of saline water in the Indus delta also adversely affecting coastal agriculture, mangroves and breeding grounds of fish.
Pakistan was mostly affected due to regional greenhouse gas emission (GHGs). Pakistan has less than one percent GHG emissions but somehow the developed world has neglected the country despite its increased burden on natural disasters and being put by the United Nations among the top 23 most drought hit countries. While adequate measures were being taken at the appropriate level for addressing the climate change challenges and minimising its adverse effects on human beings and agricultural and other sectors, Pakistan during the past couple of months, has been hit by a severe heatwave further aggravating weather conditions. The months of March and April, which are traditionally considered to be months of spring, have since been turned into months of a severe heatwave in most parts of the country. March 2022 was the hottest recorded month since 1961. The Met Office has already indicated that the country can face a prolonged heat wave till June 2022. The Federal Ministry for Climate was issuing advisories to the provinces in this regard. The heatwave will quite obviously have a serious impact on the masses, early communication at the appropriate levels can help save lives. It was not only the matter of water scarcity or temperature rise rather the persisting severe heatwave was feared to impact Sindh province’s agriculture which makes the country’s half food basket. The incumbent federal government has formed a Task Force for developing a comprehensive strategy for mitigating the effects of climate change in the country on a priority basis, to prevent incidents such as the glacier incident in Hunza. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has already presided over the first meeting of the Task Force on Climate Change. The Prime Minister has also directed the official quarters concerned at the federal and provincial levels to take appropriate measures on priority basis for preventing food and water shortage, conserving water and forests.
Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman, while speaking to the media, along with the Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and other officials concerned, said that the Task Force would take measures against the heatwave which has spiked and gained longevity in its span; the glaciers in the north are melting rapidly because of prolonged and extreme temperature spike; awareness in this regard is a must. Heatwaves are prolonged periods of excessive heat with temperature more than 10 degrees higher than normal. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), exposure to high levels of heat can cause exhaustion, heat stroke and hyperthermia. Deaths and hospitalisation are likely to occur either immediately or after some days of exposure which can also worsen chronic Illnesses including cardiovascular, respiratory and diabetes-related conditions. Way back in 2015, an extended heatwave in the subcontinent had resulted in more than 25000 deaths in India and over 1200 deaths in Pakistan, mostly in Karachi as briefly mentioned above. According to the Ministry of climate change’s 6th Assessment Report, cities like Karachi in Pakistan are likely to experience conditions equivalent to the 2015 heatwave on the basis of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the industrial levels, the goal for limited warming under the 2015 Paris Agreement. According to the projections by a US based non-profit organisation focused on environmental data, both India and Pakistan are headed towards warming of 3.6 Celsius by the end of the century. The population density, the scale of economic activity and rapid urbanisation in the region all make the sub-continent vulnerable to extreme weather events. According to the experts, the human body has limited ability to adapt to heat level bulb temperature, a term that accounts for both heat and humidity. Around 95 degrees Fahrenheit are considered to be the upper limit that human beings can survive above which prolonged exposures can prove fatal.
Be warned, take adequate measures, avoid unnecessary exposure and save yourself as well as your children and people around from adverse impacts of persisting severe heat waves.