Pakistan Has A Month’s Worth Of Water Left — And 5 Percent Of Its Tree Cover

CREDIT: AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen

A Pakistani woman walks back to her home carrying wood over her head that she collected to be used for cooking and heating on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013.

Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change due to its location, population and environmental degradation. According to a 2013 report from the Asian Development Bank, Pakistan has one month of water supply on hand. The recommended amount is 1,000 days. 80 percent of Pakistan’s agriculture relies on irrigation from the overstressed water system.

Pakistan’s average temperature is expected to increase around 3 degrees Celsius within the next 50 years — this will make food and water challenges even more taxing. A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change concludes that people are already migrating out of the Pakistan for just these reasons.

The study, which focuses on rural Pakistan, found “that flooding — a climate shock associated with large relief efforts — has modest to insignificant impacts on migration. Heat stress, however — which has attracted relatively little relief — consistently increases the long-term migration of men, driven by a negative effect on farm and non-farm income.”

It goes on to state that “agriculture suffers tremendously when temperatures are extremely hot … wiping out over a third of farming income.”

For those in Pakistan relying on the large timber industry for their livelihoods, the outlook is also grim. Deforestation is a major problem in Pakistan, with the country only retaining between two and five percent of its tree cover. About 43,000 hectares, or 166 square miles, of forest are cleared annually. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, this is the highest deforestation rate in Asia.

Deforestation is not an easy problem to address. Each of Pakistan’s five provinces has its own deforestation laws. There is a strong timber mafia that has a hold over many local and timber officials. And recently a shortage of natural gas for heating and cooking has led to an increase in the country’s middle-class cutting down trees for energy use. Pakistan’s population has more than quadrupled since it was founded in 1947, and the country now has an estimated 180 million residents. Deforestation contributes to flooding, and in 2010 Pakistan experienced devastating floods after a strong monsoon season that killed around 2,000 people.

“There is no doubt that deforestation is threatening the livelihoods of many poor people in our country who depend on the forests for their fuel and livelihood needs,” Syed Mohammad Ali, a development consultant, wrote in an op-ed last year. “Deforestation is also blamed for exacerbating the damage caused by natural disasters such as floods and landslides, since the absence of tree cover causes soil erosion and diminishes groundwater absorption. Researchers have also identified deforestation as a major factor behind expansion of the country’s heat zone, reduced flow in the Indus River as well as shrinkage of the Indus River Delta.”

In December the World Bank gave Pakistan nearly $4 million to study deforestation and how to address it. Naeem Ashraf Raja, the director of Pakistan’s biodiversity program, told the Washington Post that “officials also hope to convince the United States and other foreign donors to help launch programs to compensate landowners who agree not to cut trees.”

A report from this week assessing the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) program, a United Nations’ effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, concluded that governments and private entities need to ensure that the proper incentives are in place to achieve long-term sustainability goals. Between 15 and 25 percent of global carbon emissions are attributed to deforestation, more than the entire global transportation sector. The report found that unless more finance is made available for REDD+ projects, the program could become a failure.

According to the report, about $12 billion of investment is needed to ensure REDD+ can deliver a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions from forests and land-use change by 2020 — short of the original 50 percent reduction goal, but still significant in combating global emissions.