By Faisal Farooq
Rising global temperatures are taking a toll on the Himalayan region, leading to an unprecedented loss of snow from its majestic peaks. The decline in both the frequency of snowfall and the number of cold days in the hills is becoming increasingly apparent, with significant implications for water security and agriculture.
Notably, there has been a substantial rise in both daytime and nighttime temperatures across the Himalayan region, underscoring the discernible impact of climate change. From Nepal to Pakistan, mountain peaks devoid of snow are sending a distress signal about the consequences of global warming and climate change.
Despite a hopeful start with snowfall in the last week of January, the situation remains grim. Until mid-January 2024, the winter has been remarkably dry, with a significant deficit in rainfall for the season. November saw an 80% deficit, December experienced a 79% shortfall, and January has, thus far, recorded a 100% deficit.
The consequences of this phenomenon are far-reaching, affecting various aspects of the environment, agriculture, and communities across the nation.
Mahr Sahibzad Khan, Director General of the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), expressed concerns about the country’s changing climate. Over the past five years, there has been a noticeable decline in snowfall in Pakistan, despite a rise in temperatures and increased precipitation rates since 1950. Paradoxically, the average snowfall has decreased, falling below 51.4 inches per year.
DG PMD Khan highlighted a noteworthy shift in weather patterns. While snowfall has reduced, there has been a simultaneous increase in rainfall. This shift brings more intense and concentrated rain showers, posing an increased risk of flash floods in both rural and urban areas.
Beyond the quantitative changes in snowfall and rainfall, Khan noted shifts in the timing and duration of these events, mirroring changes in weather patterns. These alterations signify a broader transformation in Pakistan’s climate, posing challenges such as increased flood risks and potential impacts on various sectors dependent on consistent and predictable weather patterns.
Inadequate snowfall in mountainous regions and diminished rainfall contribute to declining river flows, affecting reservoir levels and posing a significant threat to the country’s water supply, particularly for agriculture.
Agriculture, a cornerstone of Pakistan’s economy, is highly dependent on winter rains and snowmelt for irrigation. The lack of precipitation during the winter season disrupts the natural water supply for crops, potentially leading to reduced yields and economic challenges for farmers. This can have a cascading effect on food security and livelihoods.
Beyond the immediate consequences on water resources and agriculture, the absence of adequate winter precipitation contributes to rising temperatures, leading to changes in ecosystems, impacting flora and fauna. Altered weather patterns may contribute to the expansion of arid and semi-arid regions, transforming landscapes and impacting biodiversity.
Climate change is associated with an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms, and erratic rainfall patterns, posing additional challenges to communities and infrastructure.
Climate change has repercussions for human health, affecting the spread of diseases, availability of clean water, and overall well-being. The combination of water scarcity, changing landscapes, and extreme weather events can contribute to health challenges, necessitating adaptive measures.
The reduced winter snowfall and rainfall in Pakistan this year serve as a stark reminder of the far-reaching consequences of climate change. Urgent and comprehensive efforts are required to address the impacts on water resources, agriculture, ecosystems, and human well-being. Mitigation and adaptation strategies, along with international cooperation, are crucial to building resilience and ensuring a sustainable future for Pakistan in the face of changing climate patterns.