Climate change in the hills of Murree

Published: July 11, 2011

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban

Living close to the land, as I do, means that climate change is a painful reality rather than a highly emotive subject to be kicked around at exorbitantly expensive conferences which, in real terms, only add to the problem as a direct result of the carbon and other emissions they incur. Climate change sceptics, and they are legion, tend to be city dwellers getting a thrill from arguing about something they know little about. It is those whose fingernails are ingrained with the actual earth on which all forms of life depend, who till the land for livelihood and spend most of their hours outdoors, who know that something is definitely changing and has been for quite some time.

Personal climate observations over the last 15 years of mountain life in the Murree Hills clearly show that the seasons are increasingly out of kilter: The first five winters guaranteed snow and lots of it, spring arrived, slowly, around the beginning of April when apricot and plum trees blossomed, summer began mid-June and faded away by the end of September. Autumn was October – November and then the four month winter moved in. Spring was warm with regular showers, summer brought the monsoon, autumn was dry, winter bitterly cold with night temperatures regularly below minus five degrees Celsius and snow putting in a regular appearance. Initial temperature and rainfall changes became apparent 10 years ago, worryingly so over the last five years, and were taken with a pinch of salt, blamed on a bad year that would right itself next time around, but it didn’t.

Spring can now arrive in February, summer is here by mid-April and lasts until at least mid-October. Autumn then lingers until the end of December, with winter often snowless and relatively mild, crammed in to a brief six, possibly eight, weeks. Autumn used to be reasonably dry with the occasional thunderstorm, but for three consecutive years, autumn now means drought and, for the first time this year, so does spring. What this means is that traditional cropping patterns are no longer viable.

Soil temperatures are high enough to begin seed sowing by the beginning of March, it used to be the end of April, but without necessary rain, nothing will germinate without regular irrigation. Unless huge quantities of water are stored on site, which is not common practice, drought conditions ensue and crops burn up well before the arrival of the summer monsoon. Waiting until the monsoon arrives, around the beginning of July, before undertaking seed sowing means that traditional crops do not have enough time to grow to a harvestable size before being hit by autumn drought. The result is no or meagre crops.

Wildlife is hard hit too; the climatic change is happening far too quickly for birds, animals and plants to adjust. Swallows, for example, used to arrive here in April but over the last 10 years have flown in 10–14 days earlier each spring. This year, they arrived on January 23. Birds began nesting in mid-February when apricot and plum trees were in full bloom, but a totally unexpected one-day snowfall accompanied by a bitter wind, on April 18, wiped everything out within two hours. The following day felt like summer. Climate change, you see, is also erratic, which makes planning for the future an extremely challenging task.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2011.

Reader Comments (10)

  • SharifL
    Jul 12, 2011 - 12:26PM

    Good article. It appears nobody is interested to write a comment on a subject which i think is very relevant. If it was paki bashing or political leaders bashing, or not least US bashing, things will be different. No wonder nobody is asked to write about old age, environment or peaceful coexistence.

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  • Jul 12, 2011 - 1:08PM

    Climate change is a conspiracy by CIA and mussad to keep money and oil flowing from middleeast

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  • Haider
    Jul 12, 2011 - 1:40PM

    Really a pity. Cutting trees in bulk, corruption in the foresty department, so many buildings have taken off the beauty of queen of mountains. GoP must not let any stone unturned to plant more and more trees in Murree as well as whole of northeren areas and educate tourists and ban littering as in Singapore atleast in these areas.. the only way we can save the left over nature in Pakistan! Otherwise hot, dry summer would always bring floods with it.. In my point of view it is an emergency situation..

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  • Ed
    Jul 12, 2011 - 2:49PM

    if we keep up our current activities and do not start to set things right on a mass scale right now… we may be a specie destined for extinction … soon…Recommend

  • Haider
    Jul 12, 2011 - 3:00PM

    @TightChuddi:
    any supporting evidence you would like to share in this regard so that your statement could be evaluated? God! when would we get rid of our conspiracy theory mindset..

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  • OB
    Jul 12, 2011 - 4:53PM

    This happens when excess replaces efficiency.

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  • Naheed
    Jul 18, 2011 - 12:32PM

    A very thought provoking article and hope a lot of attention is given to it in a real sense of word. Zahrah, your have spotted on the climate change so right. A very initial step we can take is to stop the cutting of trees which is playing its part in climate change.

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  • Fayyaz Shah
    Jul 18, 2011 - 1:28PM

    Zahrah thanks for highlighting a very crucial subject, the whole of Northern Pakistan environment is under constant massacre by corrupt official, desperate mountain dwellers, the Talibaans who allowed anybody to chop trees as they would get $4 as war Tax, the result was tons of logs lying in streams and we saw what happened when the floods came in Swat, (our beautiful Office next to The Madyan Trout Hatchery went down the river). We at OCEAN have been giving proposals to the Lords of Poverty in Islamabad who showed no interest at all.Our proposals were to engage many locals from those areas in conservation work, there were 3 million trees available which would put thousands of people at work while the Lords of poverty worked out their Scientific formulas in Islamabad.

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  • Fayyaz Shah
    Jul 18, 2011 - 1:42PM

    How about a climate Unchange Army I volunteer.

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  • Sauman Das Gupta
    Jul 21, 2011 - 5:31PM

    As Fayyaz Shah mentions”Lords of Poverty and Scientific Formulas” are being written in every continent.The cover up and total non supporting attitude to face facts seems to plague every poverty stricken community.Most of whom were reduced to their state of misery as a result of shift to an alien lifestyle.I volunteer as a soldier of Combat Climate Change Crusade:)

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