Irreversible high temperatures

ByKausar Fatima

Works in an international audit firm and writes for magazines


June 28, 2022

There is hardly any doubt that the current increase in temperatures in Pakistan is just unprecedented and has created plenty of issues for the people of the country. The high levels of heat experienced in the length and breadth of the country that has fundamentally altered the climatic scenario in the country. The scorching heat has affected not only the people but also the environment in the country particularly the agricultural sector. The seriousness of the situation could be gauged by the fact that few cities of Pakistan like Nawabshah, Sibi and Jacobabad have registered highest temperatures and have emerged amongst the top hottest places in the world with average temperatures recording five Celsius higher than normal. This is an extremely worrying scenario and requires immediate amelioratory measures to ward-off the dangers inherent in this increase.

Even more worrisome is the fact that the increase in temperatures is irreversible and many areas of Pakistan are at serious risk unless a series of interventions are strategised and systematic investments in local resilience are made. The spiraling temperatures is estimated to negatively affect crops, yields, local trade, jobs, health, migration, construction designs, school enrolments and drop-outs and changing electricity demand. Prolonged high temperatures are like living permanently in a warmer region, instead of just experiencing the occasional peaks during summer and the impact of such existence depresses human spirit putting it in frequent and serious depression. The heat is also harmful for human health and results in myriad illnesses with some of them incurable. This is an extremely dangerous prospect and may prove disastrous for the future of the country.

The intensity of the climate change has become clear by the fact that the onset of summer came much earlier than usual with March heating up extraordinarily registering highest recorded temperatures in over a century. It is also recorded that the temperature rise in many areas was recorded 10 degree Celsius higher than usual with 62 per cent less rainfall. The lack of rains exacerbated the onset of heat and caused maximum harm to the crops particularly mango whose produce declined by around 50 per cent. Though the heat ripens the succulent yellow fruit, the untimely early rise in temperatures, coupled with water shortages, have badly affected the crop. When the unripened fruit is ready it requires water which helps the mango grow to a good size but then the water shortage hit it badly. Pakistan is the world’s fifth largest producer of mangoes after India, China, Thailand and Indonesia and the average mango production is nearly 1.8 million tons but likely to be around half that this year with agriculturists cutting the export target to 25,000 tons compared with last year of 125,000 tonnes.

Though the exceptionally dry heat was harmful to crops but it was equally lethal to people and there were reports of people from towns such Jacobabad, Nawabshah, Sibi and other districts migrating towards Quetta to survive. Moreover, the extent and duration of high temperatures in the plains of Punjab and Sindh have stunted the wheat crop, increased demand for imports and added to the already growing food insecurity in the midst of soaring commodity prices resulting from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Most problematically it is just not only the plains that have affected by high temperatures but it is noted that high-altitude Mountains and glacial areas are also not prone to heatwaves. Heatwaves in the upper Indus basin areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan have accelerated glacial melt causing Pakistan’s water storages to face shortage along with causing downstream flooding and loss to infrastructure.

High temperatures reduce the ability to efficiently cool off that increases a person’s heat stress. When humidity is high, sweat evaporates slowly and body’s core temperature increases, triggering a series of emergency responses to protect vital functions. Weather experts regularly advise people to avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day as it increases the possibility of sun stroke bringing on muscle cramps and heat exhaustion that can lead to death. The heatwaves have now become almost routine and climate experts now insist that this trend should be taken in account as the new normal. In this respect it is reported that heatwaves may become more likely by 30 per cent and that is a horrendous future scenario. Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to increasing heat as it does also face the scarcity of electricity that exposes people directly to heat with no respite through the summer months.

Apparently, this increase is not going to tone down as it retains the capacity to continue for long and disrupt the climate patterns. The climate scientists are quite apprehensive about the prospects of mitigating the effects of rising temperatures as they open the floodgates of rain and subsequent floods. The jeopardy is double in content as the heatwaves cause drought and excessive rains bring in floods. TW


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