Lahore (Pakistan) – In the capital of Pakistan’s largest province Punjab, residents such as Muhammad Junaid say the ongoing heatwave has felt “very sudden and unexpected”.
A tailor living in one of Lahore’s Katchi Abadis (shanty towns), Junaid told Al Jazeera the 40 degree Celsius (104 degree Fahrenheit) and above temperatures, combined with hours-long power shortages, have created an “unbearable” situation at home.
“We are eight people living in three rooms… The children get easily frustrated in this heat together with the load shedding [power outages]… Sometimes they can’t help but cry,” he said.
Since April, South Asian countries are experiencing Unpredictable heatwave that has seen some areas touch 50°C (104°F).
“This is a freak weather phenomenon that has completely shaved off the spring season in Pakistan,” former climate change minister Malik Amin Aslam told Al Jazeera.
Speaking by phone from the capital Islamabad, Aslam said temperatures were “6-7° higher than normal at this time. What we see happening most definitely is due to climate change,” he added.
Scientists have long warned the climate crisis will lead to more intense weather – including floods, droughts and heatwaves.
A UN agency reported earlier this week that key indicators of climate change – including greenhouse concentrations and ocean heat – had been higher compared with 2021.
“The global energy system is broken and bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe,” the World Meteorological Organization said.
8th most affected country
The Global Climate Risk Index was published Germanwatch is a non-profit groupPakistan is one of most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change over two decades.
The Germany-based group ranked Pakistan 8th in terms of most affected countries between 2000 and 2019. According to the group, Pakistan lost an average of 500 lives per year during this period and 10,000 total over the entire period.
One of the most alarming effects of the “torrid” heatwave is the accelerated melting of Pakistan’s glaciers in the north, according to Aslam.
A few days ago @ClimateChangePK had warned that Pakistan’s vulnerability is high due to high temps. GLOF from the melting Shisper glacier caused erosion under pillars and led to the collapse of the Hassanabad bridge. Am told that FWO will put up a temporary bridge within 48 hours. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/Sjl9QIMI0G
— SenatorSherryRehman (@sherryrehman) May 7, 2022
Earlier this month, the Hassanabad bridge in the northern Hunza Valley was destroyed because of a glacial lake outburst flood at the Shisper Glacier – leading to flashfloods – and leaving tourists and locals stranded.
“Last year we [the previous government] had made special drainage channels around the glacier to let the drainage happen – but the lake burst was so huge it broke through it as well,” said Aslam.
Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers – one of the highest numbers in the world – many of them in the Himalayan region.
The University of Leeds Study published in December found the ice from glaciers in the Himalayas was melting “at least 10 times higher than the average rate over past centuries” a result of human-induced climate change.
The researchers also reported that the Himalayas, which include other countries in South Asia like India and Nepal, had lost 40% of their ice over the past several hundred years.
“What Pakistan is experiencing is a perfect climate storm,” Aslam said. “It is very alarming and there is nothing we can do about this. The country cannot simply go out and turn off the greenhouse gases.”
Effect on crops
Experts warn that the unexpected heatwave could also affect the country’s agriculture sector.
Amanullah Khan, head of the environment and climate change unit at the UN Development Programme in Pakistan, told Al Jazeera while the country’s crops are used to high temperatures, the issue was the heatwave arriving earlier than expected.
“It’s not as if the agriculture of this country has not seen temperatures of 41°C or 43°C – the problem is that crops need certain temperatures at a certain time of their growth,” he said from Islamabad.
“If the heat arrives earlier the usual, this will manifest in the country not producing good crops such as wheat,” Khan noted, adding Pakistan imported Last year, wheatDespite being a net exporter for many decades. He cited climate change among the main reasons.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s mango harvest has also been affected, with some local experts Claim a DropProduction at almost 60%
The patron-in-chief of the All Pakistan Fruit & Vegetable Exporters, Importers & Merchants Association Waheed Ahmed told Al Jazeera his group had reduced its export target by 25,000 tonnes this season, a 20 percent drop.
Speaking from Lahore, Ahmed added similar shortfalls can be expected later this year in the “production of green vegetables, sugarcane and other crops”.
Ahmed stated that continued water shortages are further increasing food security in the country.
This month, Pakistan was ranked among 23 top countries in the world. UNOver the past two decades, drought emergencies have been a constant concern.
The report published by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification said droughts – a result of low precipitation and Exacerbated by higher than normal temperatures – were a major driver of “crop yield volatility”, leading to low yields and resulting in “substantial financial losses”.
Junaid, the tailor, stated that unlike other wealthy households, he and his relatives had limited financial resources to deal with the heatwave. This was made worse by ongoing power outages in the province.
“We have no money to buy an air-conditioner. We rely on fans and cheap coolers … but when there is no electricity for several hours, we have nothing to stay cool with. We just have to live with it,” he lamented.
“We can’t afford a UPS [uninterruptible power supply] or generator as a backup when the load shedding starts.”
A climate February, 2002 study found in the 2010s exposure to heatwaves for the “poorest quarter of the world … was more than 40 greater than in the wealthiest quarter”, citing a lack of access to heat adaptation facilities such as air conditioning and the resources to run them.
“Adaptation measures, such as cooling centres … can lower a population’s heat exposure impact. However, a country’s ability to implement adaptation measures generally depends on its financial resources, governance, culture and knowledge. Poverty affects each,” the authors wrote for the media and research outlet The Conversation.
The heatwave is not a major concern for Pakistan’s low-income workers who work outside.
“We have no choice but to continue working the same long hours no matter how hot it gets … to support our families,” Muhammad Zubair, a tea seller told Al Jazeera, adding his regular 10-12-hour workdays remain unchanged.
Arshad, who is a day labourer and earns between 500-1200 rupees per hour (US$2-$6), told Al Jazeera he believes the government should provide continuous employment for workers like him.
The father of three claimed he had not been able to find a job for nine consecutive days between April-May. He sat outside for eight to nine hours waiting for someone to hire him at a busy intersection in Lahore.
“The heat is bad but it will always be there… It can’t stop us from trying not to go hungry.”