Mar 21, 2011

Like it or not

Climate change is going to affect the population living in this area, notably in the shape of water scarcity

By Reema Murad

United Nations Climate Change Conference which took place in , Mexico from 29 November to 10 December 2010 offered low expectations due to the results of the 2009 which, unfortunately, only resulted in non-binding agreements.

The draft documents that were drawn up during the Cancun summit admit that deeper carbon cuts are needed but they do not launch a mechanism for achieving the pledges countries have made.

That is not to say that there were no concrete steps taken. A fund was formed with the aim of assisting developing countries to deal with climate change. The Green Climate Fund is intended to raise and disburse $100bn (£64bn) a year by 2020 to protect poor nations against climate impacts and assists them with low-carbon development. Also, a new Adaptation Committee will support countries as they set up climate protection plans. In addition to these agreements reached at the Cancun Summit, parameters for funding developing countries to reduce deforestation have been outlined.

In spite of these agreements, there is a serious question regarding climate change that whether carbon emission cuts on countries will be legally binding.

The Pakistan delegation held a side event at the UN climate talks in Cancun to bring attention to the extreme floods in PakistanÕs history, which was organised by LEAD-Pakistan and was attended by a number of journalists and NGO officials.

Experts have warned that climate change could alter the timing and rate of snow melting, with an initial increase in annual runoff followed eventually by a steep decrease that will severely curb river flows.

Another negative effect of this climate change for Pakistan could be of provoking conflict between Pakistan and India, particularly as India develops dams along the upper riches of the Indus, raising questions in Pakistan over whether falling water availability is due to climate change or to IndiaÕs reservoirs.

The painfully negotiated Indus Water Treaty of 1960 owes its roots to the 1947 separation of India and Pakistan into separate countries. It provides India rights to the natural flow of water of the IndusÕ three eastern tributaries Ñ the Ravi, Sutlej and Beas Ñ while Pakistan controls the main Indus channel itself and two Western rivers, the Jhelum and Chenab.

However, determining what amount of water represents a riverÕs natural flow is growing more difficult as climate change affects glacial runoff and the monsoon. Pakistan has increasingly raised concerns about data sharing and transparency, especially because the upper reaches of all of the rivers lie in Indian-controlled territory, giving that nation greater ability for control of the entire Indus river system.

PakistanÕs anxieties have a great deal to do with its lack of alternative water resources. Seventy-seven percent of its population survives on water from the Indus basin.

The changes threaten to have a major impact on agriculture in both nations as well. According to the U.N Environmental Programme, changes in temperature and precipitation patterns will alter crop yields and growing seasons with a predicted increase in more extreme storms, rainfall and drought. Experts also believe new pests and diseases will emerge, and could seriously leave a negative impact food security in both nations.

Another worrying point to note is that PakistanÕs meteorological department has recorded a 10 to15 percent decrease in winter and summer rainfall in the countryÕs coastal belt and arid plains, with a temperature rise of 0.6 to 1.0 degree Celsius over historical levels.

Per capita water availability in Pakistan has dropped in the last 50 years from 5,600 cubic meters to 1,038 cubic meters today. By 2025 it is predicted to be 809 cubic meters, according to the Pakistan governmentÕs Water and Power Development Authority.

Humid areas of Pakistan, on the other hand, have seen an 18 to 32 percent increase in monsoon rainfall. In India and Pakistan, 70 percent of rain falls during monsoon periods, which cover four months of the year.

In PakistanÕs western Himalayan foothills, where farmers rely on glacial melting from the Karakoram Range and year-round rainfall, both water sources are now reducing. Fruit farmers in the area have already responded by harvesting summer stream water into 3,000 litres gravity-fed storage tanks.

In other areas, flooding is the problem. Pakistan records floods almost every year now, and in India the area affected by flooding more than doubled between 1953 and 2003, and currently represent about 11 percent of its geographic area, according to the World Bank.

The problems facing both sides of the India-Pakistan border are serious because water management systems are inefficient. Poor water management is to a great extent responsible for PakistanÕs water worries, According to a 2006 World Bank report, ground water is being overused with a resultant 20 million tones of salt accumulating in the water system.

India and Pakistan need to form and implement mutually beneficial strategies to overcome the issue of water management as well as to cope with climate change.

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