IPCC report which discusses the extreme weather vulnerabilities across the world, has rung bells for humanity to prepare for Earth’s ‘unprecedented’ climate change. Despite being one of the most severely affected countries due to this ‘irreversible’ trend, there has been a limited discussion on this particular research in Pakistan, if not any. Generally, there isn’t much talk about weather in Pakistan as the most popular debate remains around political stability and economy. However, things started to change after the biblical flood of 2010. Unparalleled weather events has made the public curious especially in the large cities of Pakistan. Obviously, when unusual things start to happen in big cities, it is only at that time that the government or media starts paying attention.
Karachi’s heatwave of 2015 changed everything
Shedding light on Pakistan’s most populated, largest and financial hub – Karachi, citizens were never afraid of the summer heat until 2015. Being near the Arabian sea, it usually has a calm and tolerable weather. In June 2015 (June 17 to June 24), an unprecedented and extremely unusual heatwave gripped Karachi and adjoining areas in the Sindh province. Commonly, June is a hot month for Karachi as the temperature tends to reach 40°C to 44°C during a heatwave but it normally lasts for a day or two (average high is 35.4°C). In that year, it lasted for one whole week, the highest temperature recorded was 45°C on June 20, 2015 while the heat index as reported by the Ministry of Climate Change was at an extreme side of 58.3°C to 66.1°C during the whole period of the heatwave. This resulted in the death of 1,260 to 2,000 people due to heatstroke and dehydration. However, the all-time high record wasn’t broken i.e 47°C in June 1979.
Nevertheless, the duration of 2015 heatwave was something not seen before. Prolongation can be blamed on a strong low pressure in the Arabian sea that formed off the coast of Gujarat and India. Since then, there was a fear of a repeat. Now, whenever the Government issues heat warning for Karachi, authorities set up ‘heatwave camps’ where free water is given to people on streets and hospitals at times are placed on alert to avoid the disaster of 2015.
In just 2 years, another incessant heatwave took us by surprise in 2017
There was a fear of similar events happening in April 2017 when a severe heatwave started affecting southern Pakistan, the heatwave was much ahead of its normal time. Commonly such heatwaves happen in May and June. In April 2017, interior Sindh reported 45°C to 50°C high temperature. Karachi’s temperature reached above 40°C for 4 consecutive days. The heatwaves of 2015 and 2017 were not at all normal.
The Heat is getting hazardous for human living and we need to be worried
The trend towards a high temperature usually starts in the month of March and peaks in May & June. It is around that time (June) we tend to see pre-monsoon rains. Some years have witnessed actual monsoon onset happening in June, commonly the monsoon starts from July and last till August. An active monsoon season can stay till September.
When we talk about interior cities in Sindh or Balochistan province, they usually observe very high temperatures in May and June. Reaching as far as 45°C to 50°C. They are the warmest areas of Pakistan. In 2010, many towns and cities in these provinces including cities of the Punjab province recorded all high time temperatures. The ancient city of Mohenjo Daro (Sindh) reported a temperature of 53.5 °C in May 2010. If you remember, 2010 was the same year when north Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab province) received torrential downpours leading to its worst flooding. 7 years later, another heatwave set the highest temperature of Pakistan i.e 53.7 °C in Turbat (Balochistan – May 2017). These areas are impoverished so most people cannot afford air-conditioner. They have to adopt basic measures such as staying indoors and pouring water on themselves to cool off to tackle the extreme weather.
Explosive rise of hurricanes in the Arabian sea is also a matter for coastal cities
We are noticing relentless high temperatures that we never witnessed in the past. In the last decade, we are getting far heavy and persistent rain in areas that usually don’t get freak weather as often. There is a huge instability in the monsoon behaviour as well. There are years of heavy monsoon downpours and then a year which may even go dry with very little rain.
The thing that troubles and surprises me is what is happening in the Arabian Sea. It is getting warmer and it is producing hurricanes and monsoon storms which before 1998 was a very rare event. I strongly believe that the latest events that happened in Karachi and much of the Indian-subcontinent also have to do with the changing sea surface temperatures of the Arabian Sea. All of this is connected to the global change we are witnessing. Now is the time to prepare for the future!