Climate change: Slow melting of glaciers to delay crop sowing

Published: June 6, 2012
"The water flow
in the rivers is
approximately 35%
below what it should
be for this time of
the year,"
Punjab irrigation department
officer Arshad Khan. PHOTO: MAJID HUSSAIN

"The water flow in the rivers is approximately 35% below what it should be for this time of the year," Punjab irrigation department officer Arshad Khan. PHOTO: MAJID HUSSAIN


Climate change is already beginning to affect the Pakistani economy it seems: Punjab’s agricultural areas face a water shortage due to the late melting of the Himalayan glaciers that form the source of the region’s rivers, delaying the sowing of three of the four most important crops in the country – cotton, sugarcane and rice.

“The water flow in the rivers is approximately 35% below what it should be for this time of the year,” said Arshad Khan, an officer at the Punjab irrigation department. “That shortage may rise to as high as 45% in the coming months just as the sowing season starts.”

Pakistan has four major crops – wheat, cotton, rice and sugarcane. The latter three are grown in a single season. Farms that grow these crops employ close to a quarter of the nation’s total workforce and produce about 10% of the country’s total economic output. Even the most minor of changes to the yields in these crops has a disproportionately large direct impact on the economy as a whole.

In addition to their direct contribution to the GDP, these crops also have an effect on the textile, fertiliser, cement and automobile industries since farmers are large consumers of the products of each of those manufacturing sectors.

The wheat harvest season in Punjab has recently come to an end, freeing up millions of hectares for cultivation of what are known as kharif (autumn} crops since they harvested in the autumn. Yet many farmers are currently leaving their land idle since they do not have enough water to sow their crops. Delays in sowing crops can often result in lower yields since variations in temperature and weather conditions can affect the output on farms.

“The water shortage will definitely create hurdles for farmers. Many of them will find it difficult to sow their kharif crops,” said Arshad Khan. “Central Punjab is currently not getting its share of water [from the dams in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir]. As a result, the water level in the canals is also running low and we are unable to fulfil the requirements of farmers.”

Sowing crops is a relatively water-intensive process. “The kharif crops being sowed right now need immediate watering. If we cannot ensure water availability, the yield will go down,” said Aamir Ali, a farmer in Faisalabad district.

“Not getting water affects the crop in two ways: firstly, it can cause problems in germination. And secondly, it can reduce the life of the crop, not allowing it to fully mature,” said Tanveer Ahmed, a farmer and agricultural expert who educates his fellow farmers on more efficient growing techniques.

Aamir Ali reckons that cotton farmers may still be able to get by unaffected. “Cotton has an extended sowing period because there is a wide variety of seeds available,” he said.

Historically, Punjab’s farmers have been able to rely on tube-wells as an alternative to river and canal water when the flows slowed down. However, the energy crisis – coupled with high fuel – prices have made that prohibitively expensive. Most rural areas get no electricity from the grid for up to 20 hours a day, which means that they have no choice but run their tube-wells on diesel generators. But with diesel prices close to Rs100 per litre, most farmers are loathe to use that option unless they absolutely have to.

“Watering by tube-wells is just too expensive,” says Ali.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Not me
    Jun 6, 2012 - 8:50AM

    Yes; Pakistan is one of the countries most affected by Climate change.
    An NGO FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance has started doing some trailblazing work in GB province on climate change mitigation.


  • tatheer zaidi
    Jun 6, 2012 - 2:27PM

    how glacies change climate of gilgit bultistan?


  • Windy
    Jun 6, 2012 - 7:52PM

    According to GRACE satellite data the Himalayas overall have seen an increase in 7 regions and losses in only 4 regions.

    “…secular trends show water equivalent volume losses along the arc of the main Himalaya Mountains, with water equivalent volume increases on the Pamirs and Karakoram (regions 1 and 2) and on the Tibet Plateau (regions 4, 6, 9, 10, and 12). The GRACE volume loss trends in regions 3, 5, 8 and 11, may be following trends of negative glacier mass balance and reduction of snow cover.”

    More recently an newer study using Grace data from 2003-2010 confirm no significant mass balance decline in Himalayan snow/glaciers.

    What scientific basis = data does the author Imran Rana base his claim that climate change has caused the late melt? He has not shown any scientific evidence that I see to support the contention that that climate change was the reason for late melt. The satellites provide three dimensional measurement of ice/snow volume which according to data is stable and not decreasing. So again the question is why are the Pakistanis blaming climate change when there is no evidence to suport the claim?


  • pinroot
    Jun 6, 2012 - 8:54PM

    So now I’m confused. First we’re told that glaciers are melting at an increasing rate because of climate change, which will cause all sorts of problems. Now we’re told that glaciers aren’t melting fast enough (because of climate change) to provide water for irrigation. Which is it?


  • Windy
    Jun 6, 2012 - 11:22PM

    “Despite drawing international attention in the past two years to its increased vulnerability to climate change, Pakistan allocated a meagre 135 million Pakistani rupees (US$ 1.43 million) to its newly formed climate change ministry – a fraction of the US$ 416 million given to the atomic energy sector in the budget presented on 1 June.”

    So now I’m confused, as Pakistan has decided not fund any meaningful programs to deal with the climate change threat that they have been crying about to the rest of the world. If it was Pakistan’s intent on looking insincere to the rest of the world on climate change concerns, they have succeeded. Spending only 0.344% on climate change compared to what they are spending on atomic energy has made Pakistan’s government look like they aren’t worried about climate change at all, which bothers me and makes me think that the author of this article might be attempting to hype climate change as a means of putting pressure on the Pakistan government to better fund climate change. If that was the reason for injecting climate change then at least I can understand it as I think the Pakistani government has done a disservice to its people with so little funding for climate matters.


  • whatthe?wasthat
    Jun 7, 2012 - 1:43PM

    It states that historically the farmers have used tube wells when the melt water doesn’t come. So in other words, this has happened before and on regular ocasions and therfore cannot be associated with climate change. Secondly, if the ice isn’t melting then the chances are it is too cold to melt which suggests, as some scientists are already promoting, we are going into a cooling phase of the climate.

    Wrap up warm people.


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