Home Climate Precipitation Predicament: Unraveling Climate Shifts in KP's Heartland

Precipitation Predicament: Unraveling Climate Shifts in KP's Heartland

by Muhammad Fahim - 04 Dec, 2023 1676

Residing for over four decades in Garhi Musafar Phandu Road, a suburb located seven to eight kilometers from Peshawar city, Amin-ud-Din expresses concern about the unusual warmth during the initial days of November, followed by heavy rain and strong winds towards the end.

Reflecting on the past, the 72-year-old recalls a time 30-40 years ago when November ushered in a distinct winter season. Back then, a light rain on a Friday would persist until the next Friday, sometimes enduring for ten to twelve days, accompanied by bone-chilling cold.

Amin-ud-Din notes the shift in patterns, reminiscing about the predictable rain on November 9, traditionally associated with the local summer months of "Cheetar" and "Phagan," where monsoon rains were expected. The apparent deviation from these eternal behaviors prompts his reflection on the changing relationship between humanity and nature.

Unfamiliar with terms like greenhouse gases, global warming, and climate change, Amin-ud-Din, guided by his beliefs, attributes the altered weather patterns to a shift in human behavior. In his view, mankind's detachment from its creator and immersion in various sins have led to a transformation in nature itself. However, Aminuddin remains unaware that scientific evidence suggests human sins might not be directly responsible, and that the changing weather patterns are linked to broader factors such as greed and the relentless pursuit of material development.

The realization that nature has become humanity's adversary, a consequence of unchecked material desires, leaves mankind in a vulnerable position. Mitigation and adaptation strategies have been devised to counteract these adversarial changes, but their successful implementation remains a formidable challenge.

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The harsh reality of climate change, substantiated by scientific evidence, has emerged as a global concern, prompting world leaders, scientists, businesses, civil society, and policymakers to convene again for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28) in Dubai. The conference, scheduled from November 30 to December 12, is set to review the progress made since the historic Paris Agreement in 2015. Pakistan, having become a signatory member in 2016, faces the challenge of determining its future course of action to reduce emissions and safeguard lives and livelihoods.

These concerns find validation in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Climate Change Action Plan 2022. This policy report highlights the impact of climate change not only on weather patterns but also on food production, floods, droughts, heatwaves, and their cascading effects on health, livelihoods, infrastructure, and biodiversity. The province, like the rest of Pakistan, is grappling with the consequences of sudden and catastrophic weather events that are reshaping its environmental landscape.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report 6 (AR-6) further substantiates these concerns. Global surface temperatures have risen, leading to longer summers and milder winters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The northern regions, dominated by glaciers and sub-humid forests, face increased rates of glacier melting. This not only poses a flood risk but also impacts agricultural output. The report predicts a likelihood of more erratic, intense, and frequent precipitation events, making mountainous areas vulnerable to flash flooding. Meanwhile, floodplains in central and southern parts of the province, with significant populations and agricultural activities, are at risk of riverine floods.

The changing climate has already begun affecting food production, with significant implications for central valley plains and southern regions of the province. The majority of agricultural operations take place in these zones, and any disruptions in weather patterns can have severe consequences. Temperature fluctuations and unpredictable rainfall events have led to changes in crop types and agricultural yields. The northern region may see improved agricultural yields of rice, wheat, maize, and vegetables due to rising temperatures. In contrast, the central and southern parts, facing both rising temperatures and water scarcity, experience diminished crop productivity. Insect infestations are becoming more frequent, adding to the challenges faced by farmers in the warmer, humid climate.

These changes, combined with natural disasters like droughts and floods, pose significant threats to food security in the province. Climate change not only influences weather patterns but also affects precipitation, leading to heavier downpours. This can result in devastating floods in mountainous areas, while global warming exacerbates drought conditions in arid regions. The people, flora, and fauna of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are caught in the crossfire of these changing weather patterns, with warmer temperatures encouraging the growth of forest-damaging insects and droughts leading to nutrient depletion.

Biodiversity in the region is also under threat. Pakistan boasts around 100 endemic species, and 90 percent of these are found in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Himalayan range and sub-humid forests of the province house several mammals and bird species, including twelve internationally endangered endemic and migratory birds. Climate change, with its impact on ecosystems, is jeopardizing the habitats of these species. Rapid changes in temperature and precipitation patterns are affecting forest birds, mammal, and insect species, contributing to the potential extinction of certain plants and animals.

The implications of climate change extend beyond the natural world to impact the way people live. Extreme weather events caused by climate change have significant consequences for human health, livelihoods, infrastructure, and culture. Displacement due to the loss of infrastructure and livelihoods is becoming more common.

The severity of these ground realities is palpable in the lamentations of farmers like Faiz Muhammad, a 39-year-old cultivator who nurtured his 120-kanal field of cabbage.

Faiz Muhammad, engrossed in tending to his crop, expresses ignorance about the changing weather patterns, attributing any deviations to the divine will. For him, the crops are like his own offspring, requiring care and attention to flourish. However, he recalls a challenging experience from the previous year when excessive rainfall submerged his cabbage crop, preventing him from applying essential nutrients and leading to substantial losses.

Iqbal Jan, Behram Khan, and their colleagues, on the other hand, paint a more pessimistic picture. They believe that the once fertile lands of the village no longer yield bountiful crops. Wheat, sugarcane, and tomato cultivation have been abandoned by most farmers due to consistent losses. While they acknowledge the changing rainfall patterns, they view these shifts as part of nature's course, attributing the more significant agricultural crisis to poisoned water from nearby canals.

The disheartening reality painted by these farmers is not isolated but reflects a broader challenge faced by agriculture in the region. Deputy Director of the Environment Protection Agency Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (EPA), Afsar Khan, sheds light on ongoing projects aimed at enhancing climate resilience. Initiatives such as the Billion Tree Tsunami, projects addressing Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF), and improvements in drainage systems are actively contributing to mitigating the impacts of climate change. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in various cities stands out as an example of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Fawad Ali, a seasoned journalist specializing in climate and environmental issues, emphasizes the significance of research studies indicating substantial changes in weather patterns and precipitation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The province faced a notable absence of rain in the fall of 2021, particularly affecting the southern districts, known as the food basket of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The scarcity of rain resulted in thousands of hectares of land going without wheat cultivation, causing a severe shortage of food. Over 40,000 metric tons of fertilizers could not be utilized, creating a challenging scenario for the agricultural sector and highlighting the need for adaptive strategies.

In this complex web of climate challenges, ecologist and botanist Prof. (Rtd) Dr. Akmal provides insights into the future. He predicts a decrease in winter rains by 2030-2040, shifting the rainfall patterns towards monsoons, a phenomenon traditionally associated with June-July or July- August. The anticipated warmer weather in September, October, and November could necessitate the use of air conditioning in homes and cars. Dr. Akmal underscores the importance of devising an annual weather calendar to understand how changing weather patterns affect crop growth cycles. Adaptation strategies should involve the development of crop varieties resilient to climate shocks.

Dr. Akmal advocates for a reevaluation of cropping patterns, considering the shifting climate conditions. The end of winter rains could render rainfed wheat cultivation obsolete in dry plains. Simultaneously, increased summer rains create opportunities for crops such as ghee-producing plants. Adapting to these changes requires a region-specific approach, identifying suitable crops for each area to ensure not only food security and improved livelihoods but also the potential for export and economic growth.

In conclusion, Pakistan's climate odyssey unveils a tale of interconnected challenges—changing weather patterns, agricultural uncertainties, and the imperative for adaptive strategies. The experiences of individuals like Aminuddin, Faiz Muhammad, and Iqbal Jan underscore the urgency of addressing climate change's far-reaching consequences on people's lives and livelihoods. As policymakers, scientists, and communities grapple with the intricacies of mitigating and adapting to climate change, the road ahead is complex but demands a collective and concerted effort to secure a sustainable and resilient future for Pakistan.

Note: The story is produced under the supervision of Mr. Tayyeb Afridi and in collaboration with Report for the World.