One degree is all it takes

Last year’s calamitous rains in Karachi demonstrated the effects of a mere one degree Celsius shift in the Arabian Sea

Yusra Salim April 04, 2021


It is hard to imagine anyone who lived through Karachi’s harrowing rains of August 27, 2020 would be able to forget them easily. The unfortunate incident led to the death of 40 people and cost hundreds of peoples their homes. People were left with as much as 15 feet of water inside their houses and lost millions in items that were destroyed in the rains. It would be even harder to image that all this destruction and distress was caused by a mere one degree rise in the temperatures of the Arabian Sea?

While knowing how just a degree can change the dimension of the city what is alarming is that temperatures are not going back to normal and we can face worst rains this year than we have seen in last few years. All this is, however, a small episode of the bigger picture of global warming, climate change and environmental emergency.

Creative: Mohsin Alam

While talking to The Express Tribune, Pakistan Meteorological Department’s Director in Karachi Sardar Sarfaraz said that climate change is not something which has evolved out of the blue it has longterm consequences and generally people don’t consider how small changes which they have adapted with time in their lives are causing this change. “It is humans who have helped the climate set weather patterns, which are causing destructions,” he said.

“Last year we saw excessive rains in Karachi and the south side of the country. One of the main reasons was an increase in temperature. To say, it is just a degree, but it was a lot if we consider in weather conditions and if the temperature keeps the same average then the intensity of rains in in the future will be more disturbing,” explained Sarfaraz adding that, in the meteorological departments they calculate long term average which is 30 years in their records from 1981-2021 and this has been the most that the temperature has risen.

Furthermore, elaborating the temperature rise and its significances, he said that the temperature of the world has increased upto 0.86 degrees since the pre industrial era what was common in the 1750s. However, even 0.86 degrees is alarming and have caused destruction around the world until now but what is more worrisome is experts are predicting that it will rise upto two degrees in the next three decades and the kinds of destruction it will wreak can only be imagined.


Sharing how the change in temperature has been a reason for record-breaking cyclones formed in the oceans and have changed weather patterns. The years 2016-2017 were the warmest years globally. “The change in temperatures has not only caused rains but are also a big reason for different weather conditions just like this year. Pakistan had 75 percent less rains in winter and the reason was that Pacific Ocean temperature was below average, which is also because of weather pattern changes,” said the Met office director, adding that there are two conditions in ocean water: Lanina and Elnino. The situation where the sea temperature is below average is called Lanina and it has its own pros and cons, and similarly, when the sea temperature is above average, it is called Elnino.

Answering whether this year the rain will be more than last year or not he said that, they are not certain yet that this year the rains will be more than last year or not because they cannot predict temperatures but it very much possible that it will be, as the temperatures have started rising already.

Environment and industries

Talking about how the world has to keep a balance of environment and industries, environmentalist Tofiq Pasha Mooraj told The Express Tribune that the balance of the environment of planet is very delicate and it should be handled the same way. “When we say that the sea temperature just rose by one degree it sounds harmless but it is a drastic increase in sea temperature as it takes hundreds of years to make sea temperatures to rise and humans are doing it flawlessly” he said adding how intense the situation is by explaining, “It is not a cup of water that it can rise to boiling temperature in five minutes. It is the vast sea and just imagine what disaster we are doing with the ocean and how big the stove we have put under the ocean is to raise its temperature. We are forcing it to boil over and surge out onto us”.


How the predicted temperature which is to be two degrees by next few decades and what precautions the world is already doing, Mooraj explained that international forums are talking about ending fossil fuels by 2030 by its still nine years to that and by then half of the world will be in serious problems caused by global warming. “We are sitting on a bomb right now; each passing second is bringing us closer to consequences [of our own behaviour]. We need to start ending what is causing the damage before it is too late and things get beyond our control,” he said.

“What if a building is on fire? Would we call the fire fighter immediately or wait for five days? It’s the same situation: if we wait until 2030, we will be in severe trouble and then we won’t be able to handle what’s coming towards the world, especially the areas which are closer to oceans,” he said. “It is the survival of human race, which is at stake,” he concluded.

More than temperature

Discussing what’s causing these drastic outcomes in the environment, Ecologist Rafi ul Haq said that it is not just temperature that has impacted the rains but that there are several factors. “The normal pattern is that for nine months a year, Karachi faces south westly winds. It was far-fetched for a long time to believe that the ice melting in the north pole is connected to the winds Karachi have but global warming and climate change is connected throughout the world to one another.”

The winds we have for nine months of the year has vegetation cover and provides oxygen to the city but because consumption is more while the production is very less, whenever there is low pressure in Arabian sea, the oxygen pressure is also is 20 per cent lesser in the city, which is why people died in 2015 heatwave of suffocation. “As soon as you get out in the city you will feel headaches, difficulty in breathing, compare to when you are by the seashore and in open space where the consumers are fewer,” he explained.


But how have people rendered the city into its worst condition? The creation and evergrowing concrete jungle is the is one of the main reasons. “When the city was getting populated the building authority had a clause to leave 33% of the area of your house land open for ventilation but due to corruption and no checks and balance set in place, now in new constructions, we hardly see open spaces but just small balconies that too with air-conditioned outers or water containers hanging,” he said.

Record-breaking omens

Sharing how the Arabian sea has been acting in the last few years and what drastic changes it is bringing to the land, Meteorological expert Jawad Jawaid who runs a page on Facebook called ‘weather updates,’ talked about how the Arabian sea has been hyperactive for the past two years and the sea surface temperature has gone up by one-two degree since 2018 and the year 2019 was a record-breaking season for cyclones all over the sea. “Kyarr in 2019 was the strongest and most powerful cyclone the Indian Ocean has formed in history,” he said adding that 2020 has seen similar changes in localised low pressure systems forming on the sea surface which were the main reason why the coastline of Pakistan affected and specially Karachi witnessed devastating rains which broke all records of 90 years (it also is to be considered that the system in Pakistan does not contain any rain records of rains before 90 years).

The rain systems were used to come from Bay of Bengal but last year it was directly forming in the Arabian Sea and were moving towards Gujrat and Karachi. Jawaid also added that so far in 2021, the sea surface temperature has already risen to 0.6 and 0.8 degrees while the summer hasn’t started and it can increase upto 2.5 degrees due to which precipitation will be more and wind patterns will also change overall, which will impact things on a larger scale and cause more rains. “When sea temperature rises, and hit low pressures and change wind patterns, those are the most favorable conditions for storms to form, which then turn into cyclones which then lead to hurricanes.”

Talking about how Lanina season is going on and how it is impacting the system in current situation, Jawaid said that if the Lanina comes in summers its good in Pakistan and the rest of the Asian region as it causes the frequency of monsoon. If Lanina forms in winters, then it has opposite and adverse effects.


“This year, western disturbance was limited to Pakistan region so it was just northern areas and Punjab, and not in Sindh and Balochistan which was the reason that snow and rain was lesser this year all over the country,” Jawaid elaborated complaining that meteorological departments should have taken this into consideration and should consider this an important issue and inform other departments to be cautious. “Monthly reports should also be released as we are an agriculture country and due to lesser rains, a lot of agriculture was affected and went to waste. Departments should engage people in this and guide them on how we can fight this bigger challenge,” he said.

Other than just Lanina, this year Polar vortex, which was disturbed this year, was the second biggest issue. “We have seen what happened in Canada, Texas, Europe, and Russia,” he said sharing that Western disturbance dipped into down which is why Pakistan faced severe to moderate drought situation in winters.

Sharing what he does to inform people about winds and such weather patterns he said that on social media they do quarterly or monthly updates just like they do of rains but then again, their word is not what an official report can do.

How can we prevent this?

So what can we do to prevent upcoming disasters? All experts say the solution is to stop burning of fossil fuels. According to Sarfaraz, the international organisations have come up with an agreement to reduce the release of carbon dioxide in air by 2030 but it still seems a far-fetched reality that the world will understand this. “To change the world and prevent ourselves from bigger disasters we need to use fuel efficient cars, industries should start opting methods which requires less fuel consumption, power generating should shift from coal to solar, wind and even sea tides,” he said, stating that the world is in an emergency situation and it will be too late if we don’t realise this very soon and start making changes as the Atlantic ocean has formed record breaking cyclones last year with the number exceeding 30, while Arabian sea itself has formed seven cyclones - the highest in history.

What small changes can we incorporate into our lifestyle to make the world a better place? Mooraj says that that each one of us can play a part: “We need to stop burning fossil fuels. Why do each of us use separate cars and send our drivers to buy grocery things three to four times a day for minor things? We should car pool as much as we can and stop consuming and using cars as much as we can, how we sit in the car and the very moment turn on the air conditioner, why can’t we bear a little nature, we need to save electricity as much as we can so that govt has to make less electricity which eventually lessen the burning of fossil fuels, we should save water as much as we can for our own selves, we should stop burning our garbage, use reusable things and stop using plastic,” he mentioned the few changes common people can adapt. All such things are small but can make a big difference in the world these things can make significant changes from the steps which people are taking towards destructive changes.

“To make changes in this system we need to make our carbon footprint as small as we can and go back to being as close to nature as we possibly can,” said Haq, adding that people think that walking for an hour in a park is coming close to nature but that isn’t true if people keep their air-conditioners are on for the entire day at home and even in their cars. “We need to adjust ourselves around nature and not fight against nature. We should try to only wear cotton fabric and try to avoid causing as much pollution making things as much as we can,” he shared.

To prevent further destruction, Jawaid was of the view that, we have to work on it as we can’t get lucky every year. “There will come a time when we have to face these storms and cyclones, and given the current scenario, the day isn’t far away when the storms and cyclones actually hit the city”. Sharing his concerns, he said that the city isn’t ready for such disasters as Karachi cannot even manage 250 millimeters of rain and its paralysed for 15 to 20 days after one day of rain. “Last year, when it rained, there was an electricity breakdown for five days with no water, gas or other facilities. Even the posh areas of the city collapse when we get even a small tropical storm of 400 to 500 millimeters,” he said.

Answering what can be done to stop the damage, the met expert said, “We have to action on emergency basis as we don’t have any defense mechanism to face this. The government needs to think about this immediately or else the situation this year can be worse than what it was last year.”

Talking about how men themselves have made the climate change worse for cities he shared that men have cut down mangroves and now they are diminishing very fast. Mangroves are a natural way to maintain surface temperature and stop cyclones and even tsunamis. They also used to stop any unwanted changes in water surfaces but unfortunately mangroves are being cut on a larger scale and those lands are being captured.

The large scale of dumping of garbage and untreated chemicals into the sea is also damaging marine life and mangroves. The city has seen the effects of temperature rises, when in 2015 heat wave came and wreaked havoc. “Intensity is increasing and frequency of the heatwave trap in our region has affected the Arabian sea and regions which are nearer to our side,” he explained.

Drastic and immediate actions should be taken as the whole globe is on high alert. “We have seen what has happened in the arctic. Complete ice shells the size of cities have melted and still people are turning a blind eye to climate change,” the met expert said, adding that it is simple to understand that, if the equator temperatures increase by one degree than north pole or south pole can get impacted upto eight to 12 degrees.

Planation, secure planation, higher punishments to people and industries which are damaging plantations, plastic ban, waste should be manage are the few things which are to be done immediately. “Plastic was banned but then again it was reverted as there was no check and balance also carbon emission should end as soon as we can, coal should be replaced by wind, solar and hybrid energy as soon as we can,” he added.

Stating that small changes can make a big difference, Jawaid said that even small changes can take at least three decades to improve things overall. “It won’t happen that making these changes will bring changes in the next two years but consistency can make it better and more balanced for upcoming generations. The mess was created over the span of 125 years, since the industrial revolution took off and things will not improve overnight. But small changes can start to affect and better things in 25 to 30 years,” he concluded.



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