Global climate change is considered to be the prime environmental issue of 21st century that today’s human beings are facing. Climate change is no more assumed to be a theoretical thought but a gospel truth.
Its positive and negative impacts are obvious and clearer. Whether it is the devastating floods of July, 2010 or Ataabad lake formation and GLOFs at Passu and Ghulkin Glaciers; almost all of them are considered to be negative impact of unusual global climate change. According to experts, rise in Global temperature is the main cause of these natural disasters. Although, impacts of extreme climatic changes will affect the whole world but it is apprehended that the coastal and mountainous areas will be more vulnerable to random ice melting and catastrophic flood downstream.
Pakistan is an agricultural country where more than 50 million people depends on the River Indus and its tributaries, such as Hunza River, Ghizer River, Astore River and Shyoke River, for irrigation and almost 20% of the total electricity generation is also contributed by these rivers in the form of Hydro power.
In River Indus, more than 90% of water is contributed by the Northern snow caped mountains and Glaciers. Where, the rapidly varying global environmental processes and is constantly rising global temperatures are affecting the whole world, likewise the mountainous areas of Gilgit-Baltistan are not spared too. Unexpected changes in annual average rain and snow fall pattern is becoming the major root of insufficient quantity of water in River Indus and its tributaries. Scarcity of water in Indus River is directly affecting the Country’s agriculture and agricultural based industries. In expert’s opinion, impacts of climate change on the glaciers and snow reservoirs of Karakorum ranges are quite different from that of Himalayan glaciers but harmful effects of climate change in Karakorum cannot be ignored either.
The topographical structure of Gilgit-Baltistan is no more than a desert landscape without the Nature gifted rivers, lakes, glaciers and snow caped peaks. Like other mountains, our communities, inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan also depends on rivers, streams, lakes and spring water for drinking, irrigation and power generation but the water quantity in these rivers, lakes and nullahs fluctuates with varying weather conditions. In past few years, circumstances aroused due to varying annual and seasonal climatic conditions resulting in an obvious increase in occurrence of natural disasters like flood, cold spell, landslide and drought. Due to reduced flow of water in Rivers, lakes and Nullahs, the agricultural production is badly affected, as the agro pastoral mountain communities of Gilgit-Baltistan depend on snow melt water to irrigate the terraced fields and irrigated pastures.
According to recent scientific research, for the last five decades, average mean temperature of adjacent areas of Karakorum ranges has increased by 0.5 0C per decade, resulting in less severe winters. Whilst, 18% increase of average winter and summer rainfall has been recorded in the region. The difference in maximum and minimum temperature is obvious for winters than that of summers. A comparison of Gilgit-Baltistan and its surrounding areas shows that an increase in average annual temperature of Gilgit-Baltistan, which is 0.07 0 C per decade is almost equal to that of its neighboring country India, since 1894. Whilst, the increase of 0.20 0 C per decade has been apparent since 1961, which is almost similar to the Tibetan region of neighboring country China. Similarly, entire South-Asian mountainous region that includes; the great mountain ranges i.e., Karakorum, Himalaya and Hindu Kush; where average temperature in winters has raised from 0.27-0.55 0C is in fact greatly contributed by the environmental and weather changes and most probably due to spontaneous industrial development and extensive forest cutting since half century.
Source: Archer 2009
This is not all, even more alarming point is that continuous increase in winter maximum temperature can affect the quantity and flow of water in river Indus and its tributaries, consequently imposing a serious threat to agriculture related industries and power generation in both, the upper stream and down stream areas. Increased random melting of the masses can immediately cause floods in rivers and Nullahs but in the long run it may result into acute shrinkage of water causing droughts, if the snow reservoirs exhaust rapidly. For this reason, it is prime responsibility of the provincial & federal governments, public and private organizations and community representatives to join heads for planning to take serious collective steps toward coping with challenges of climate change and environment, so that the poor of the Gilgit-Baltistan Mountains can be hoarded from the potential threats of climate change induced natural hazards.
The contributor is Senior Manager Conservation/Head of WWF – GB.