ISLAMABAD: Slow melting of glaciers and snow in northern Pakistan due to low temperatures is severely depleting the country’s water reservoirs, which can lead to food and energy insecurity, officials and experts warn.
The South Asian nation of 220 million people is home to 7,253 glaciers, with more glacial ice than any other country on Earth outside the polar regions.
But climate change is “eating away at the Himalayan glaciers at a dramatic rate,” noted a study published last year in the journal Science Advances.
As glacial ice melts, it can accumulate in large glacial lakes, which are likely to burst on their shores and create deadly flash floods downstream. More than 3,000 of these lakes had formed in 2018, with 33 of them considered dangerous and more than 7 million people at risk downstream, according to the United Nations Development Program.
Now there is an additional dimension to the flood problem.
“The drop in temperature in the northern regions, especially in Skardu, has resulted in a significant reduction in the inflow of water into our rivers, which is obviously worrying for all of us”, Mohammed Khalid Idrees Rana, director of the system’s operations Indus River Authority, told Arab News on Tuesday.
Pakistan’s water storage capacity is now only sufficient for 33 days, which experts say should be increased to at least 100 days to ensure the water supply essential for agriculture, l industry and other purposes.
The country’s river flow, which is heavily dependent on melting glaciers (41 percent), melting snow (22 percent) and precipitation (27 percent), suffers from slow melting of glaciers, according to the reports. responsible.
The Indus system receives an annual influx of 134.8 million acre-feet of water, while Pakistan only receives snowfall in northern areas in winter.
According to the Ministry of Water Resources, stored water in Pakistan has dropped to 1 million acre-feet, down from 7 million acre-feet in the corresponding time of the year. last.
Rana said the temperature in the northern parts of the country with glaciers and snow was generally 22 to 23 degrees Celsius at this time of year, but currently ranges between 16 and 19 degrees Celsius due to thick clouds.
“Climate change has severely affected our water supplies from glaciers,” he said.
“If the current temperature continues for another seven to eight days, we may need to reduce the provinces’ water share.”
According to ministry data, water supplies from northern regions of the Indus river system have declined 22 percent from last year’s inflows.
Rana told Arab News that the current water situation in the country could delay rice planting, as cotton planting in Punjab was already underway and completed in Sindh.
“There is no imminent threat to the drinking water supply in the provinces,” he added.
Water flows in the system were recorded at 176,000 cusecs on Monday while the flows the country received the day before stood at 188,000 cusecs per day. Last year, during the same period, average water flows stood at 225,000 cusecs.
Average water supplies over the past 10 years have been recorded at 218,000 cusecs per day, according to the Ministry of Water Resources.
Experts estimate that around 60 percent of Pakistan’s water is currently lost as runoff to the sea due to the lack of reservoirs.
Dr Pervez Amir, director of the Pakistan Water Partnership, said the country will continue to face water scarcity issues until it builds more reservoirs to collect around 17 million acre-feet of water. water from the Kabul River every year.
“Our food and energy security will be at stake in the years to come if we fail to harness excess water from different resources,” he told Arab News.
“We must also move away from water-intensive crops like rice and sugar cane to preserve the precious resource.”