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Weather pundits forecast extra stress

The national weather forecasters believe that the next half-century will bring about an additional stress over "already resource-stressed country" through monsoon circulation, higher surface temperatures and the increase in frequency and magnitude of rainfall events.

They also see diminishing Himalayan glaciers that reduce the flows in the Indus Basin in the net 30 years, making the fresh water availability highly vulnerable. However, higher glacial melt may increase frequency and severity of floods in the river deltas.

Pakistan's Met Services Director Anjum Bari Farooqi said these changes could result in major impacts on the country's ecosystems and biodiversity; hydrology and water resources, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, mountains and coastal lands and human health and settlements.

His predictions about the 'things to come' in next 40 to 50 years were contained in a paper compiled by him and Pakistan's Chief Meteorologist Azmat Hayat Khan, read his paper at the second day of the three-day workshop for scientists researching measures to combat the adverse effects of global warming.

Farooqi, however, said that countries like Pakistan where impacts of climate change were likely to be severe need to develop and implement incremental adaptation strategies and measures to combat the situation, adding the foremost amongst those were steps to increase income levels, education and technical skills, and also disaster preparedness.

He told a select gathering of scientists that Pakistan will start loosing mangrove forests, a breeding ground for 90 percent and source of fuel wood and food to the inhabitants around that area.

The compilers of the study were not certain what effect the anticipated changes will have on climate sensitive crops like rice, cereals, agriculture and spices, nevertheless they thought that these will continue to adapt changing environmental circumstances.

They, however, thought the agricultural productivity was likely to suffer from high temperatures, severe drought, flood conditions, and soil degradations, threatening food security of many countries in the region.

Aquaculture productivity will also undergo dramatic changes because of changes in the temperature of water. They also foresaw submergence of 'vast Asian coastlines' leading to a recession of flat sandy beaches due to rise in the level of sea level.

Similarly, they anticipated enhanced risk of loss of life and property in the coastal low-lying areas in cyclone-prone areas like Southeast Sindh.

Warmer and wetter conditions would increase the potential for a high incidence of heat-related and infectious vector-borne diseases such as "malaria and dengue".

The two scientist spoke of rapid decrease of glacier cover along the eastern slopes of Himalayan reporting that the Gangotri glacier was retreating 98 feet per year and all central and eastern Himalayan glaciers may disappear by 2035.

"As the glacial cover has decreased, so have the downstream flow volumes. Analysis of precipitation and inflow data shows a direct relationship indicating that, in dry years inflows are reduced despite the fact that temperatures were higher in upper watersheds.

This finding appeared to contradict projections of the inter-governmental panel on climate change that warmer temperatures will cause glacial contributions to downstream flow regimes to increase in the short term," the paper said.

However, historical stream flow data indicates that this increased flow phase has already passed, and that the basins have entered a potentially long-term trend of declining flows.

The continuation of this trend would exacerbate water shortage that were already apparent across the country during recent severe drought.

Increased temperature with or without any change in precipitation, over the last few decades is causing glacier melting leading to higher rates of sliding and sediment loads in the upper watershed.

Water quality would suffer from the projected impacts of climate change. Poor water quality effectively diminishes the availability of potable water, and increases the costs associated with rendering water suitable for use.

Changes in water quantity and water quality are inextricably linked. Lower water levels tend to lead to higher pollutant concentrations, whereas high flow events and flooding increase turbidity and the flushing of contaminants into the water system.

Warmer air temperatures would result in increased surface-water temperatures, decreased duration of ice cover, and in some cases, lower water levels. These changes may contribute to decreased concentrations of dissolved oxygen, high concentrations of nutrients such as phosphorus, and summer taste and odour problems.

River flows are expected to become more variable in the future, with more flash floods and lower minimum flows. Both types of hydrological extreme have been shown to negatively affect water quality.

In conclusion, the study recommended that the developing countries of Asia like Pakistan, where impacts of climate change were likely to be felt most severely because of resource and infrastructure constraints, "need to develop and implement incremental adaptation strategies and policies to exploit no-regret measures and stressing the importance of considering climate change in planning, designing and implementing development activities".

Their first recommendation was a macro strategy involving rapid, sustainable and equitable development that would increase income levels, education and technical skills, improve public food distribution, disaster preparedness and management and health care systems and reduce vulnerability.

The second was a micro strategy involving the management of sectors most sensitive to the climate change. "This means developing new institutions or modifying existing ones to promote adaptation to climate change. It would also involve modifying climate-sensitive infrastructures already planned or implemented or other long-term decisions that are sensitive to climate", they suggested.

Continued monitoring and analysis of variability and trends in key climatic elements is the need of hour. Weather forecasting systems in the region must be improved and implement reforms on land-use planning. New techniques for confident projection of regional climate change and its variability, including extreme events must be applied.

Co-ordination of climate change adaptation activities among countries in the region may be enhanced and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community and the public must be kept aware of developments on risks of climate change and involve them in planning, adaptation, and mitigation strategies.

Source: Business Recorder;

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