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  • The nexus between climate change, food and water insecurity in Pakistan
  • Strategies for sustaining agriculture and ensuring water security in a warming world

Climate change is defined as “a change in the climate that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer, and that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties.” Every day, advances in technology have led to a deeper comprehension of the problem of global warming, which is closely linked to climate change.

The Earth’s temperature may rise by an additional 0.3 to 1.7 °C (0.5 to 3.1 °F) according to some indications in the climate model estimates. Climate dynamism exhibits temporal and geographical variability. Extreme weather events including heat waves, droughts, heavy rain and snowfall, ocean acidification, and the extinction of some species become increasingly common as a result of climate change. Other implications include changing precipitation patterns, expanding deserts in the subtropics, rising sea levels, and global temperatures. Climate change has a direct impact on human survival on Earth through reduced crop yields, challenges to food security, and migration from populous regions due to flooding.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in 2014 that human activity, or greenhouse gas concentration increases in the Earth’s atmosphere, is responsible for approximately 99 per cent of climate change. Because the effects of climate change are permanent, it is much more concerning for the persistence of life on Earth. This knowledge is crucial for those in charge of affairs to make the correct decisions at the right moment to reverse the impacts of climate change before it’s too late. Unfortunately, there are several unclear regions and difficult issues that require careful consideration so, there is no doubt in the fact that global climate change is a significant issue that has an impact on many nations, including Pakistan the country, which is continuously ranked among the list of most affected countries recurrently affected by climate change where water security is directly impacted by climate change. Water security is essential for food and energy production and improves many facets of human health and well-being. Different schools of thought have different narratives in this regard but a few issues are very common because there is a very close connection between food and water where subsidised electricity for water pumping is now considered unmanageable so, there is a strong need to identify the relationship between energy and water through the lens of untapped hydropower potential in Pakistan. The growing water scarcity issues across the region may further lead to food insecurity shortly if significant measures and steps are not taken to tackle this issue so, Pakistan’s knowledge of survival has increased because of the threats associated with climate change, especially about the national security of industries like food, energy, and water.

Pakistan is ranked 12th out of all the nations that climate change is predicted to negatively impact. The nation, whose economy is mostly agro-based, is directly threatened by global climate change in terms of food security. There are various facets to food security, such as production, distribution, and accessibility. Our economy is heavily dependent on the extremely vulnerable agriculture sector, and the majority of people living in rural areas are impoverished, which makes them less able to withstand the effects of climate change. In addition to decreasing groundwater aquifers in flatter parts, climate change is interrupting the agricultural supply chain in mountainous areas, among other detrimental implications on food security. Harsh weather in Pakistan has harmed agricultural productivity and food supply in recent years, and there is a real risk that food production will be stressed in the years to come. Regions like Pakistan, which are already fragile and among the world’s most hungry, might suffer greatly from climate change.

According to research conducted over an arid region of Pakistan, the dry, arid soil conditions would cause the farming population in the area to become more impoverished as temperatures rise.

Reduction in crop yield

Climate change is predicted to lower agricultural yields in Pakistan, impacting food supply and livelihoods. The country’s current fast population growth and urbanisation, along with lower yields, make hunger and food insecurity a serious threat. Khan and coauthors (Khan and Shah 2011) estimate that there are about 27 million undernourished persons in Pakistan or 19% of the country’s total population. The percentage is currently higher than average and is projected to rise further as a result of growing worries about food insecurity in light of the effects of climate change and other devastating events.

Effects of increased rainfall variability

In Pakistan’s mountainous regions, where food trees are widely planted, the frequency of intense precipitation events has risen, leading to flash floods. These exceptional occurrences in high-altitude mountainous regions result in flash floods over brief periods, necessitating diligent and creative monitoring and repair. On the other hand, financially strapped nations like Pakistan find it extremely challenging to monitor and manage such suddenly emerging crises.

Effects on agriculture productivity

Agriculture in Pakistan’s plains, including Punjab province, is aided by irrigation water networks. Agriculture is one of the most susceptible industries in both the present and future climate change scenarios. It is anticipated that climate change will cause severe water scarcity in arid and semiarid regions, abrupt changes in precipitation patterns (such as irregular and severe fluctuations in monsoon rainfalls), rising temperatures in arable areas, floods, heat waves, cold waves, and other natural catastrophes are some of the significant pressures on this sector. In areas where agriculture is the primary industry, small landholders who account for 80% of all farmers are the most susceptible to the effects of climate change. Some of the implications include shorter growing seasons, heat-induced stresses during crucial times for essential crops to reproduce, and increased demand for agricultural water.

A crucial economic sector, agriculture accounts for 21% of GDP representing over 60% of exports and 45% of the labour force. 23.4 million hectares (Mha) are farmed altogether, making about 29% of the total total reported area, of which 18.63 Mha (24%) are irrigated; Punjab accounts for 77%, Sindh for 14%, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for 5%, and Balochistan for 4% of the total irrigated land. The riverine, Barani, and Sailaba/Rod-Kohi agricultural systems, all referred to as the spate irrigation farming system, together occupy 3.8 million hectares. Estimates place the entire area under spate irrigation at 6.935 million hectares divided into the following states: Sindh (0.551 million hectares), Punjab (0.571 million hectares), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (0.862 million hectares), and Balochistan (4.68 million hectares). The other effects may be on Crop Production as due to the climate seasons of Rabiah and Khareef being disturbed in addition the country will also be endangered by drought and famine so, there is no doubt in the fact that, Climate change has significant impacts on food security in Pakistan, including:

  • Changing precipitation patterns: Altering the timing and amount of rainfall, affecting crop yields and water availability.
  • Rising temperatures: Increasing heat stress for crops, livestock, and humans, reducing productivity and increasing mortality.
  • Increased frequency of extreme weather events: Floods, droughts, and heat waves damage crops, infrastructure, and livelihoods.
  • Shifts in growing seasons: Warmer temperatures alter the timing of growing seasons, disrupting planting and harvesting schedules.
  • Soil degradation: Climate-related factors like erosion, salinisation, and nutrient depletion reduce soil fertility and productivity.
  • Water scarcity: Changes in precipitation and increased evaporation due to warmer temperatures reduce water availability for irrigation.
  • Impact on livestock: Climate change affects livestock productivity, reproduction, and mortality, reducing meat and dairy production.
  • Food price increases: Climate-related shocks lead to price volatility, making food less affordable for vulnerable populations.
  • Nutritional quality: Climate change alters the nutritional content of crops, potentially reducing micronutrient availability.
  • Displacement and migration: Climate-related disasters and stressors force people to leave their homes, leading to food insecurity and displacement.

To minimise the impact of climate change and food insecurity in Pakistan, consider the following strategies:

  • Climate-resilient agriculture: Promote practices like conservation agriculture, precision farming, and agroforestry.
  • Irrigation management: Improve water efficiency through drip irrigation, canal lining, and water harvesting.
  • Crop diversification: Encourage cultivation of climate-resilient crops like wheat, rice, and maize.
  • Soil conservation: Implement techniques like contour farming, terracing, and cover cropping.
  • Integrated pest management: Adopt eco-friendly approaches to manage pests and diseases.
  • Livestock management: Improve feed quality, breeding, and disease management.
  • Food storage and preservation: Enhance infrastructure for storage, processing, and preservation.
  • Support small-scale farmers: Provide training, credit, and market access.
  • Climate information services: Establish early warning systems for weather-related events.
  • Policy and governance: Strengthen policies, institutions, and governance for climate-resilient agriculture.
  • Research and development: Invest in climate-resilient agriculture research and development.
  • International cooperation: Collaborate with international organisations for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

By implementing these strategies, Pakistan can reduce the impact of climate change on food security and improve the resilience of its agricultural sector.

The Author is MD IRP/Faculty Department of H&SS, Bahria University Karachi