It may come as a surprise to many living on the plains as they swelter in the pre-monsoon heat, but Pakistan is home to 5,000 glaciers — and they are getting warmer. Glaciers globally are threatened by climate change, and those in Pakistan particularly so. Scientists grouped together in the Mountain Research Initiative have published a paper in the Nature Climate Change Journal recently. Across the world, higher elevations are warming more quickly. In our part of the world, this is largely driven by a rise in the temperatures on the Tibetan Plateau. Over the last 20 years, temperatures in areas over 4,000mhave increased nearly 75 per cent faster than in areas that are below 2,000m. One does not have to be a climatologist to understand that the consequences of this change are both far reaching and for Pakistan, potentially extremely serious.
Large parts of the country are still recovering from the catastrophic floods of 2010, and a combination of glacier melt and monsoon rainfall — both inevitable in the natural cycle — means that flooding, perhaps, on a similar scale as 2010, must be expected in the future. The report of the journal must act as a wake-up call for those in the Meteorological Department. The density of weather reporting stations over 4,500m is approximately one-tenth of those below that elevation, and effort must urgently be made to improve that ratio. Melting glaciers affect not only water flow but vegetation as well, everything from dense mountain forests to the grain crops of the lowlands. Water is a political football in the region, and the Indus Waters Treaty is going to be severely tested in coming years as changes occur in the way the Indus river system works, potentially impacting the lives of billions of people in the subcontinent. This is not an issue that can be filed in the ‘pending’ tray. Climate change is a reality, and the argument about whether or not it is man made, irrelevant to those experiencing its worst effects. Pakistan is a frontline state in terms of the downside of climate change, and action cannot be deferred.