With its extreme heat and drought-like conditions, Karachi has begun to raise an alarm: this is what global warming looks like and it now knocks on our doorstep.
“Karachi has been recognised as a maritime desert,” explains Rafiul Haq, an ecologist by profession and founder member of Coastal Restoration Alliance for Biodiversity (CARB). “It is located in a subtropical arid zone with an average rainfall of less than 220 mm/year. Such fragile climatic conditions are sensitive to any change.”
Extreme weather conditions are linked to global climate change, which is a result of unnecessarily exhausting natural resources. In a city of about 20 million, the endless use of air conditioners, excessive travelling and even eating meat more than we need, is all adding up to a bigger carbon footprint.
“The settled residential areas are now surrounded by high-rise buildings, which contribute to municipal, social and ethical issues. Recent unplanned and uncontrolled development has greatly ignored the fragile nature of the city’s climate,” argues Haq.
Is there a way to reverse the process?
The consensus among environmentalists is to plant more trees, and then some more. It seems like an obvious and sensible thing to do, but not many heed the lesson.
“Trees play a vital role in moderating the micro climate,” explains Haq. “Besides being good absorbents of radiant energy, producing oxygen and maintaining temperature through perspiration, they definitely contribute in increasing the chances of rain.”
Farmer taking excess water out from the fields near 3R canal, Haron Abad, Pakistan. Photo: Faseeh Shams/IWMI
A better way to collect, send and share water information in Pakistan
A group of researchers from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Pakistan are investigating whether water flow information that is clear, credible and timely can improve the management of public irrigation systems and lead to more equitable water distribution. The team is using new technology, which automatically measures canal flows, groundwater and weather, and transmits this information to water managers through a mobile phone network. This is the first attempt at using such technology for flow monitoring at this level of canal irrigation in the country.
Currently, Pakistan’s Indus Basin Irrigation System supports 300 million people and a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) through agriculture. However, this system cannot meet the rising demand for water from farmers. According to predictions, Pakistan will have the world’s fifth largest population by 2050. This, alongside trends of increasing land fragmentation and a transition towards the cultivation of cash crops, is putting pressure on water distribution.
The current system also faces challenges of inequity due to water rationing. During the summer months, farmers need additional water to compensate for higher rates of evapotranspiration, but the demand for water exceeds the supply. Depending on farmers’ location along the canal system, some have better access to water and receive different quantities even though they pay the same water fees per unit of land. IWMI is piloting a new way of collecting, processing and monitoring data, and researchers hope that this will help water managers clearly identify areas in need. Eventually, this could support the development of policies for more equitable and sustainable water use.
[NEW DELHI] India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan along with China account for nearly half of the world’s total groundwater use and these regions are expected to experience serious deficits, says the UN World Water Development Report (WWDR 2015), Water for a Sustainable World 2015 released ahead of World Water Day on 22 March.
WWDR 2015 explains the complex relationship between access to water and economic development using India as an example. Between 1960 and 2000 India’s mechanised tube wells increased from one million to 19 million.
India has 26 million groundwater structures; Bangladesh and Pakistan each have around 5 million.
“South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters.” — David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit
When a group of women in the remote village of Sadhuraks in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, some 800 km from the port city of Karachi, were asked if they would want to be born a woman in their next life, the answer from each was a resounding ‘no’.
They have every reason to be unhappy with their gender, mostly because of the unequal division of labour between men and women in this vast and arid region that forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.
“She works in the fields as well as the home, fetches water, eats less,” adds another.
Others say women are compelled to perform manual labour even while pregnant, and some lament they cannot take care of themselves, with so many others to look after.
While this mantra rings true for millions of impoverished women around the world, it takes on a whole new meaning in Tharparkar, one of 23 districts that comprise Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has been ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food insecure region of the country.
But a scheme to include women in adaptation and mitigation efforts is gaining ground in this drought-struck region, where the simple act of moving from one day to the next has become a life-and-death struggle for many.
UNDP’s Sustainable Land Management Project (SLMP) Phase-I in Pakistan aims to combat land degradation and desertification with the involvement of key stakeholders
Global warming to exacerbate land degradation, warns Mushahid
by NOKHAIZ SAHI
Islamabad – Federal Minister for Climate Change Mushahid Ullah Khan on Saturday said that weather patterns in Pakistan are changing rapidly due to climate change, causing negative impacts on glaciers, river flows, underground water recharge systems, agriculture and overall biodiversity.
“Depleting river flows, falling underground water level, shifting rainfall patterns, frequenting heat waves, droughts, sea intrusion, sea-level rise, shrinking winter months, expanding summer months and melting glaciers are all terrible indicators of how fast the climate of the country is changing.”
“We need to take corrective measures and work hard in collaboration with relevant government and non-governmental organisations on fast track basis for hammering out mitigation and adaptation plans to tackle the negative impacts of the climate change on different sectors of economy, particularly irrigated and rain-fed agriculture, which is mainstay of national economy,” he stressed.
The minister warned that global warming will exacerbate land degradation and desertification in the countries like Pakistan, where over 80 percent of the land mass is arid. The climate change is also likely to increasing water logging and salinity, increase incidence of insects, pests and diseases, he highlighted.
Rooftop rainwater harvesting system rehabilitated at a Govt. school Vijaypura, India
Water harvesting, Conservation and Utilization Techniques in hot Arid Ecosystem of India
by Pratap Narain
Out of 31.7 Million ha hot arid Ecosystem in India, 82 per cent is spread in western Rajasthan and adjoining Gujarat states including about 7.5 Million ha Thar Desert extending across the border into north-eastern Pakistan. Striking features of arid ecosystem are hot climate, less than 350 mm erratic annual rainfall (cv. 60-80 %), high evaporation, negative water balance and low biomass production setting especially on sandy soil with low water holding and poor fertility. Wind erosion is the main cause of land degradation affecting nearly 45% of arid Rajasthan.
Desertification is manifested in drifting of sand/ sand dunes, paralyzing road and rail traffic and depositing sand on fertile cropland and in water reservoirs. Recurring and prolonged droughts once in 2-3 years are the root cause of desertification, crop failures and exacerbate scarcity of water, food and fodder requiring their imports for drought relief. Seasonal migration in search of employment and greener pastures, a traditional way of life of pastoralist and nomads, is declining due to social conflicts. Thar Desert is the most densely populated desert in the world (population density of 127persons per km ² in 2011) with a very high animal population (animal: human ratio is 1: 4-5 against 1: 0.5 in rest of the country). It is also intensively studied region as 82 per cent area of arid zone has been surveyed by CAZRI by conventional and remote sensing.
Agriculture is the main stake of livelihood in the region. Livestock based farming and pastoralism is dependable way of survival in view of uncertainties in cropping particularly in drought years. In hyper arid region, animals are supported by grass lands dominating with Dichanthium, Cenchrus and Lasiurus grass covers. In slightly better rainfall regions and on desert margins, mixed cropping with pearl millet, arid legumes, cluster beans and green gram and agro-forestry with wide variety of multipurpose trees like Prosopis cineraria, Ziziphus mauritiana and Acacia senegal, Techomella undulata, Hardwickia binnata, C. mopane, Faidherbia albida and Ailanthus excelsa is practiced in livestock mixed farming system.
Scanty rainfall is the only source of available water in the hot arid ecosystem. Unique water harvesting, storage and conservation techniques have been evolved and practiced by the desert dwellers. Erstwhile rulers have also constructed magnificent community water structures for public usage. Traditionally, bawari, jhalra (step wells), khadin, nadi (ponds) and tanka (underground cisterns) and roof water harvesting have been utilized for rainwater harvesting for drinking, crops and ground water recharging. In Rajasthan 43 per cent of the rural drinking water supply is sourced from nadi, 35 per cent from tanka, 15 per cent from wells and tube wells and 8 per cent from other sources.
Some of these techniques have been improvised in design for efficient harvesting, storage and utilization of precious rainwater by CAZRI and popularized in the region. Ground water is limited, deep and brackish with high concentration of salts of chloride, fluorides and nitrates, which is being over-exploited for drinking and irrigation despite poor quality. The ground water development in the state of Rajasthan is reported to be 138 per cent, which is a very serious concern. Depleted freshwater aquifers have led to an acute shortage of drinking water. Artificial recharge structures comprising of ponds linked to infiltration wells (in hard rock areas), percolation tanks (in alluvial formations) and sub-surface barriers across ephemeral streams (in sandy beds) have been designed and constructed due to which availability of drinking water has improved considerably. The potential of water conservation and harvesting against drought in Rajasthan has been estimated.
The major outcomes of the study are:
For oral presentation at the Desert Land Conference on 16th-17th June, 2015 in Ghent, Belgium.
TC-Dialogue Foundation (Belgium) project in Pakistan (GADAP)
Soil conditioning training of local farmers (use of TerraCottem)
What Causes It
Desertification is when a grassland becomes a desert. Many grasslands throughout the world survive on only a few inches of rain per year more than a desert. Yet they provide grass for countless animals. The grass also holds the soil in place, preventing erosion. Sometimes, a long dry spell will affect the grassland to make it turn desert, but scientists have found that much of the world’s desertification is due to the actions of humans.
Over-grazing does the most damage to grasslands that experience desertification. If a dry grassland is overgrazed by cattle, horses and sheep, it loses the little protection it has against erosion. The plant roots that help the soil stay in place are lost so it blows away and washes away. Soon you have a new desert. Clearing forest can have a similar effect if all the vegetation is taken at once. This is done with the slash and burn technique for clearing land. The topsoil blows or washes away. An entire river valley can turn to desert if the river is rerouted upstream for agricultural irrigation or drinking water for a nearby urban area. More than 40% of the Earth’s land is thought to be dry (arid or semi-arid) and has more than 2 billion people living there. Scientists think that 24 billion tons of topsoil are lost to erosion every year.
How Does It Affect Us
In the United States, in the 1930s, the great plains underwent a drastic desertification from too many animals grazing it at once, too much plowing under of the natural prairies at once and then an unusual drought. This caused the dust bowlthat lasted for ten years and fueled the great depression. So, desertification can affect the humans that cause it and in turn cause terrible hardship to those humans — us!