Ever-increasing heat waves are a cause of concern in Pakistan

Copyright: Mujahid ur Rehman

The frequency and duration of heat waves have gradually increased in Pakistan as 11 of the 15 hottest years have all occurred since 2004. Since then there has also been a dramatic spike in tropical cyclone activity in the Arabian Sea. There is no single event that is driving such change but multiple factors especially the human-influenced climate change and inadequately managed urban centers.

‘Unprecedented’! The rising temperature is becoming a norm

While April and May are the hottest months of the year in the country when the temperature easily crosses 45°C to bake many parts of Pakistan endlessly. What sets the current heat wave apart from its predecessors is its early onset, longevity, and the year in which it struck.

Unbearable heatwave has gripped Pakistan and India since March

Spring was skipped! March of 2022 has been the warmest in 61 years in Pakistan. The monthly mean temperature was 22.92°C. According to the government’s estimate, it is 4.26°C above normal than the average monthly of 18.66°C. Comparably, temperatures are 6°C to 8°C above average in many cities of the country in April. The cities of Nawabshah and Dadu in Sindh province reported 48°C on April 27 and April 28 respectively. Jacobabad again in Sindh recorded 49°C on 30th April. The capital of the province, Karachi, with an unofficial population of 20 million, has recorded an average high of 37.3°C this April. It is 2°C above normal from its average April temp of 35°C. Over the last 60 years, Karachi’s average temperature has risen from 2.25°C to 3°C along with a sharp increase in monsoon precipitation in some years.

Fire ravages the famous Margalla Hills of Pakistan

While in the northern areas of Pakistan, the federal capital of Islamabad has declared April as the ‘fire season’ due to growing cases of forest fire at the Margalla Hills which threatens wildlife consisting of Leopards, Jackels, and many more exotic animals.

The severity and longevity of this year’s heatwave are unexplainable given weak La Niña conditions are prevailing across the globe. La Niña is commonly associated with cooler or below-average temperatures in Pakistan. That said, the record for the maximum temperature ever recorded in Pakistan in April has not been broken.

  • In April 2017, Larkana recorded 51°C (It is the highest day temperature reported in the country in April).
  • In April 2018, Nawabshah recorded 50.3°C.
  • In April 2022, Jacobabad recorded 49°C.

As April nears its end, the blistering heat wave could return at the end of the first or early second week of May after few days of relief. Temperatures can reach as high as 48°C to 51°C. The month of May is the hottest month in the region.

Heat waves been fakin’ Pakistan out!

An increase in annual temperatures puts mounting environmental challenges which could threaten Pakistan’s existence in the coming decades.

Observed temperatures by a computer model

As per the simulations by General Circulation Model for future climate change projection, Pakistan’s average temperature can increase by 4.9°C during the period of 2081-2100.

Projection of average temperature by 4.9°C is alarming

Warming of 0.47°C has been observed from 1961-to 2007 in Pakistan leading to the melting of glaciers. Compare the snow covering from the 1980s/90s to 2010/2020s. Winters are shortening while summers are getting longer and harsher.

Melting glaciers raise food fears

Likewise, the sea waters have risen from 0.03 m in 2010 to 0.07 m in 2020. By 2100, it is projected to increase by 0.48 m.

Areas of Karachi can be sub-merged due to rising seawater in 2050

However, bear in mind that such simulations take various factors into consideration to predict. Similarly, the existing literature points towards an increase in annual rainfall but uncertainty prevails due to irregularities and unstable dynamics of the Indian monsoon.

The heat can push millions to migrate

The rise in temperatures can lead to ‘another’ climate migration. It is speculated that changes in climate caused mass movement of the human species from one continent to another in ancient times or even mass extinction. While there is limited evidence that suggests that ancient civilizations might have been a causality of the climate crisis. We note that the historic Moen-Jo-Daro in southern Pakistan is often depicted as a civilization flourishing in a desert. Such perception has to do with its record-shattering high temperatures and average annual rainfall of only 100 mm. In May 2010, Moen-Jo-Daro recorded above 50°C for four consecutive days, sizzling to 53.5 °C on 26th May. It is now the second warmest temperature ever recorded in Pakistan while the fifth highest on planet Earth. But it is possible that in 2500-2000 BC, there could have been a stable monsoon season in the area because to develop such an advanced agricultural civilization one needs ample rains. It would also explain the rain drainage system in the city which surprisingly many modern-day cities and towns in Pakistan lack.

Artist impression of Moen-Jo-Daro at its peak

What is triggering extreme heat waves in Pakistan?

According to the study conducted by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in 2019, the deficiency of soil moisture is exacerbating the seasonal heat waves. The environmental degradation caused by deforestation and rapid urbanization of fertile lands is having a considerable impact on evapotranspiration. Whenever temperature rises, the soil moisture evaporates into the atmosphere, countering the heat. As there is a loss of water from the surface, little to no moisture goes into the atmosphere during a heat wave thus making a day warmer.

The same study also attributes the lesser-known atmospheric condition El Niño Modoki as having a detrimental effect on the subcontinent’s climate. It is the warming of the central Pacific Ocean, unlike in El Niño where the heating takes place in the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean. Some regional scientists in India argued that El Niño Modoki could have been responsible for the deadly 2019 heat wave which is often regarded as one of the warmest and longest heat waves in South Asia.

Pakistan’s lack of seriousness toward climate can cost its future

Green spaces around the country have drastically reduced since the 1970s.

Karachi’s famous Teen Talwar is now a concrete jungle

To retain soil moisture, a massive plantation drive needs to be carried out along with urban planning. Citing erosion, the former government led by Imran Khan launched and completed the internationally acclaimed ‘Ten Billion Tsunami Tree’ to improve the ecosystem. The previous administration was the first in creating awareness regarding climate change and the environment in a country where people rarely talk about it.

Research done by PWP shows that more Pakistanis were searching about climate change on Google in his government (2018-2022) than in the previous regime (2013-2018), the increase in searches can be attributed to their vocal stance against climate change.

To conclude, evolving Earth’s geography coupled with human activity is changing the climate. Pakistan needs ‘climate preparedness & adaptation strategies’ now!

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