ISLAMABAD: The slow melting of glaciers and snow in northern Pakistan due to low temperatures is significantly 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 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 Himalayan glaciers at a dramatic rate,” a study published last year in the journal Science Advances noted.
As glacier ice melts, it can collect in large glacial lakes, which are at risk of bursting through their banks and creating deadly flash floods downstream. More than 3,000 of those lakes had formed as of 2018, with 33 of them considered hazardous and more than 7 million people at risk downstream, according to the UN Development Program.
Now, there is an added dimension to the problem of flooding.
“The drop in temperature in the northern areas, especially Skardu, has resulted in a significant reduction of water inflows in our rivers, and this is obviously worrisome for all of us,” Mohammed Khalid Idrees Rana, director of operations at the Indus River System Authority, told Arab News on Tuesday.
Pakistan’s water storage capacity is now only enough for 33 days which, experts say, should be increased to at least 100 days to ensure much-needed water supplies for agriculture, industry and other purposes.
The country’s river flows, heavily dependent on glacial melt (41 percent), snowmelt (22 percent) and rainfall (27 percent), are suffering from slow glacial melt, officials say.
The Indus system receives an annual influx of 134.8 million acre-feet of water, while Pakistan receives snowfall only in the northern areas during winter.
According to the Ministry of Water Resources, Pakistan’s stored water has plummeted to 1 million acre-feet, though it stood at 7 million acre-feet during the corresponding period last year.
Rana said the temperature in the country’s northern regions housing glaciers and snow was usually 22-23 degrees Celsius during this time of the year, but currently stood between 16 and 19 degrees Celsius due to thick clouds.
“Climate change has been severely impacting our water inflows from glaciers,” he said.
“If the current temperature prolongs for another seven to eight days, we may have to cut the water share of provinces.”
Going by the ministry’s data, water inflows from the northern areas in the Indus water system have reduced by 22 percent compared to last year’s inflows.
Rana told Arab News that the prevailing water situation in the country could delay rice sowing, as cotton sowing in Punjab was already in process and completed in Sindh.
“There is no imminent threat to drinking water supplies in the provinces,” he added.
Water flows in the system were registered at 176,000 cusecs as of Monday while the flows that the country received a 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 inflows in the last 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 a lack of reservoirs.
Dr. Pervez Amir, director of the Pakistan Water Partnership, said the country would continue to face water shortage issues until it constructed more reservoirs to collect around 17 million acre-feet of water coming 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 should also abandon water-guzzling crops like rice and sugarcane to save the precious resource.”