FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 25

Scorching heatwaves in Pakistan

Pakistan is facing the worst heatwave of its history as the temperature has crossed 50 degree centigrade in many parts of the country. The hot weather started much earlier than its normal time in April and continues without any sign of relief as May is about to end. Lahore’s weather has never been so harsh. Gusty winds and rains would break a hot spell until a few years ago. However, it is not happening now. It is time to realise that the problem of climate change has compounded after our inaction for decades.

The situation is seriously affecting the workability of people who have to work outdoors. It is clear that climate change will affect Pakistan more badly with each passing year and it would be difficult for people to sustain their livelihoods. There are also reports of an outbreak of cholera and other waterborne diseases in Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh. According to the Punjab Communicable Disease Control (CDC) Department, over 2,000 children have been hospitalised with cholera since April 1. The data is only from public sector teaching hospitals in Lahore, and it is safe to say the cases in private sector healthcare institutions and other general practitioners could be much higher than it.

According to a recent report by the UK Met Office, climate change makes record-breaking heatwaves in northwest India and Pakistan 100 times more likely. The region should now expect a heatwave that exceeds the record temperatures seen in 2010 once every three years. Without climate change, such extreme temperatures would occur only once every 312 years, the report says. The new study is based on the heatwave that gripped northwest India and Pakistan in April and May 2010 when the region experienced the highest combined April and May average temperature since 1900, BBC reported. If climate change follows the Met Office’s central predictions, by the end of the century India and Pakistan can expect similarly high temperatures virtually every year.

Meanwhile, a State of the Climate report from the World Meteorological Organisation, the UN’s atmospheric science wing, has revealed that four key indicators of climate change set new records in 2021 – greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the report as “a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption.”

According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department, the heatwave will continue in June. In Jacobabad, the temperature touched 52 degrees Celsius recently. According to local officials, most of one million people of Jacobabad and surrounding villages live in acute poverty with water shortages and power cuts seriously affecting their ability to beat the heat. Jacobabad is on the front line of climate change. However, previously, the heat would be at its peak in June and July.

Commenting on the situation, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Secretary General Prof Petteri Taalas said, “Heatwaves are more frequent and more intense and starting earlier than in the past. Heatwaves have multiple and cascading impacts not just on human health, but also on ecosystems, agriculture, water and energy supplies and key sectors of the economy. The risks to society underline why WMO is committed to ensuring that multi-hazard early warning services reach the most vulnerable.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its Sixth Assessment Report, said that heatwaves and humid heat stress would be more intense and frequent in South Asia this century. “In the pre-monsoon period, both India and Pakistan regularly experience excessively high temperatures, especially in May. Heatwaves do occur in April but are less common. It is too soon to know whether new national temperature records will be set. Turbat in Pakistan recorded the world’s fourth highest temperature of 53.7 degrees Celsius on May 28, 2017,” it noted.

Climate change threatens both developing and developed countries. It is said don’t drink water when in developing countries and not to breathe when in developed countries. An international think tank has also warned developing countries to control the population because the rapidly rising numbers would make it difficult to provide food for all. The reduction in food availability and increasing exposure to natural disasters are expected to cause the displacement of one billion people by 2050.

The Middle East is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions when it comes to ecological threats over the next 30 years, according to the first Ecological Threat Register, produced by Australia-based Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP). It warns of the mass displacement of 1.2 billion people across the world by 2050. It named the Middle East alongside Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and North Africa as the regions facing the largest number of ecological risks. The report says more than one billion people are living in countries which are unlikely to adapt to new challenges over the next 30 years.

Socioeconomic risks could increase significantly for those living in urban areas of Pakistan and India by 2050 as heatwaves push up against the limits of human endurance and survivability, the McKinsey Global Institute warned in its report. Countries with lower per capita gross domestic product (GDP) rely more on outdoor work and natural capital, and thus have less financial means to adapt quickly. Also, hot and humid countries like Pakistan are expected to become significantly hotter and more humid by 2050. This would impact workability in urban settings, and the report expects an average ten-percentage-point loss in annual share of effective outdoor working hours in heat-exposed regions between today and 2050. “Poorer regions often have climates that are closer to physical thresholds,” the report said, adding that as heat gets worse, productivity could tumble.

Environmental degradation now affects our lives in ways that are becoming impossible to ignore, from food to jobs to security. The irony is that most countries, which are worst affected by climate change, like Pakistan, have not contributed to the problem. They are paying the price for the greed and reckless policies of the advanced countries. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that our current actions are not enough for us to meet our target of 1.5C of warming. We need to do more and urgently to save the planet, plants, animals and ourselves.