Muhammad Afzal and Salim Barbhuiya
University of the West of Scotland, Scotland, UK
Address for Correspondence
School of Engineering
University of the West of Scotland
Paisley, PA2 1BE, Scotland
E mail: Muhammad.Afzal@uws.ac.uk
Due to the high unpredictability in catchments, rainfall variability and extreme weather events have become two important factors for policymakers. The variability can exist at various time-scales ranging from seasonal, sub-seasonal to long-term climate change. In Pakistan, a large part of the economy and agriculture relies mostly on water resources. Agriculture accounts for one fourth of Pakistan’s GDP and employs not less than 40% of the labour force. The irrigation system of the country depends on the precipitation in the Himalayas and the monsoon rainfall. Extreme weather events show a lot of variability in the region especially during the monsoon season, but limited research has been carried out to better understand these changes. Floods and other natural disasters may result in loss of infrastructure, energy insecurity, political and economic instability and deterioration of natural ecosystems in the country. In this situation, sustainable development is the only way forward to face both natural and man-made disasters. This paper presents the effects of extreme weather events in Pakistan and their impacts on sustainable development.
Key words: climate change, variability, sustainability, Pakistan, vulnerability
Water resources are crucial to any aspect of the economy, especially for a country like Pakistan, where the agriculture significantly contributes to the country’s economy. Pakistan has one of the biggest irrigation systems in the world. One of the major rivers, the Indus, which supplies water to large areas of Punjab and Sindh provinces, also contributes 33.5% of the country’s energy supply . Tarbela Dam is built on this river which helps to store water for irrigation systems, flood deterrence, and production of hydro-electric power. Indus river water comes from ice and snow melting in the Himalayas. .
The Indus Water Treaty (IWT, 1960) has restricted Pakistan to rely on the Indus River while India has the right to divert substantial flows of water from other rivers like Sutlej, Ravi, Beas and Chenab . This has resulted in drying of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers, which were not only the major contributors to agriculture in the region but also the source of groundwater recharge. Therefore, the IWT  may come under review as groundwater resources are depleting in the region and water quality has been seriously affected, especially in the southern Punjab of Pakistan.
There is evidence of change in monsoon rainfall patterns in this region. Turner and Slingo  found that mean intensity in rainfall during the monsoon has increased and that there is also an increase in the heavy rain events on the sub-continent. Climate change model simulations also found similar changes in spatial distribution and magnitude of the heaviest extremes of daily monsoon rainfall as assessed through the use of high emission scenarios . These changes in patterns and frequency of extreme weather events are likely to affect the sustainable water resource management in Pakistan.
Water demand in Pakistan has increased due to recent urban development and more irrigation demands to supply food for one of the top ten growing populations and grain producing countries in the world . Water scarcity is also becoming a major threat. Due to the changes in climate variability, extreme weather events (flood risk) are more likely to increase. These extreme weather events had devastating impacts on the country’s economy in the past. One example of this is the recent flood in 2010. The history of floods in the region extends back to the dawn of human civilization, primarily affecting the settlements near the rivers. The occurrence of these events is more frequent in the South-Asian Region, where the most densely populated area has shown more uncertainty in the last few decades . Pakistan suffered major floods in 1950, 1956, 1973, 1976, 1988 and 1992. In each case, a million hectares of agriculture land was inundated and millions of houses were demolished .
Devastating flood events not only destroy the cultural landscape but also break the continuity of sustainable development. This makes vulnerable villages and towns less sustainable due to the loss of economy, infrastructure and livelihood. As a result of flooding, hundreds of thousands of people migrate to neighbouring villages and towns, which create an extra burden on public services. There is also evidence from a number of studies  that malaria incidence is positively correlated with such extreme rainfall events.
2. Sustainability in terms of flood prevention
Sustainable development in general has numerous definitions. The definition provided in the 1987 Bruntland Report on “Our Common Future” is: ÛÏDevelopment that meets the needs of present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.Û Another definition is improving the quality of human life (attaining non-decreasing human welfare over time) within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems . So far, no mechanism has been described in sustainable development that maintains resilience against surprises and shocks such as extreme weather events. Figure 3 shows the flow diagram of sustainable development which clearly indicates that sustainable development cannot be achieved without having equilibrium between environmental, economic and social factors. Therefore, flood protection is necessary so that the present generation may face extreme events without endangering the welfare of future generations.
3. Socio-economic health as a pre-requisite for sustainable development
The economy is the key to sustainable development. Experts explain this with the metaphor of a car which represents sustainable development. In this metaphor, the driver of the car is the government, and the wheels on the car are the economy. The car is useless without wheels. Extreme weather events like floods and droughts can have significant impacts on the economy and thus sustainable development in a country like Pakistan. The recent flood shows the country’s vulnerability to climate chaos, which killed more than 2000 people, left more than four million people homeless and one-fifth of the country submerged. Greater than 60% country’s population lives in rural areas, and 22% of population lives below the National poverty level .
Most of the areas which are affected by flooding in Pakistan are already economically vulnerable. Moreover, more than 40% of Pakistan’s population relies on agriculture, which is one of the major segments of the economy and the labour force. In 2010-11 the Pakistan Government has allocated very limited resources to rural development food and agriculture (Fig. 4). Unfortunately, these are more vulnerable due to climate change as compared to the other sectors. This budget was passed before the July, 2010 flood events
in Pakistan. At a recent Kiribati conference on climate change, Prof. Kropp of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “The fairy tale that enough money for adaptation could fulfil development and climate protection goals in parallel is not true. Development is needed and threatened by climate change, but the money for development is needed in additionÛ.
One of the major impediments in achieving the sustainable development in Pakistan is its low literacy. Pakistan’s current literacy rate is about 57% as shown in Fig. 5. The literacy rate in rural areas is far less than the urban areas. Most of the areas which were affected in the 2010 flood are from the lowest literacy region, as seen in Table 1. The Muzafargarh and Rajanpur regions have the lowest literacy rate in Punjab province. Only 2% of the GDP is allocated for the education in the country. More recently the Provincial Government has taken some initiatives to increase public expenditure which are mostly relying on external funding rather than from the Central Government. Since independence, the country has made significant progress in literacy, but more work is needed in the rural areas to attain the future sustainability targets, especially in more vulnerable areas like small towns and villages along the Indus River.
Pakistan should consider adaptive infrastructure for unexpected extreme weather events, both droughts and floods, which may become more intense or frequent due to climate change. For this, both hard and soft adaptations can be used. The hard adaptations include maintaining a better irrigation system, improved watershed management, and updated water supply and sewage systems, high standard transportation networks and disaster prevention infrastructure. The soft adaptations may involve training and awareness-raising activities for local people through workshops and seminars, improved planning for evacuation and increased support to the community. Both strategies need to be implemented on a global scale with support from the developed countries.
Pakistan, like many developing countries, needs to integrate climate change into development actions by better planning and strong policies with long-term visions. Integration of the climate change agenda into development can help to sustain water resources, disaster prevention, agriculture, forest and ecosystems, health and sanitation, and the economy.
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B.Sc. (Chemistry, Botany & Zoology) & M.Sc. (Botany, major Environmental Biology), Pakistan
M.Sc. (Energy & Environmental Management) Glasgow Caledonian University (2006)
Professional membership: The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (AIEMA).
PhD continued (2008-2012): University of the West of Scotland, UK
Research topic: Vulnerability of the water supply systems due to future changes in climate variability in the United Kingdom
Summary: My research project focuses on the increasing variability of our climate and its effect on the vulnerability of our water supplies. It aims to improve our understanding of the consequences of climate change on water supply systems. This is accomplished by examining historical records for trends in rainfall variability and by using the new UKCP09 climate change scenarios along with a hydrological model to determine how future changes in climate variability are likely to affect the future water supply of a number of case study regions across the UK with contrasting amounts of water storage.