Climate Change in Panjab

Climate Change and Panjab

Erratic monsoon rains and sudden surges in rivers due to the accelerated melting of glaciers are threatening Panjabis living in valleys and low-lying areas. Thus, both India and Pakistan will need to monitor its mountains as a future indicator of climate change in Panjab. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that climate change will impose significant stress on resources throughout the Asian region. Its findings show that in Temperate Asia, of which Panjab is part of, food and fibre, water resources, human health and settlements will be highly vulnerable whereas biodiversity will be moderately vulnerable. Weather will not only become more extreme, it will also become more unpredictable. Climate change and the subsequent environmental changes will also increase deadly diseases, like malaria. The UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) warns that climate change could cause thousands of child deaths per year in South Asia.

Himalayan Glaciers
As a result of global warming, the Himalayan glaciers have been receding for the past century and are receding faster than in any other part of the world. It is estimated that if the present rate continues, there is a likelihood of the glaciers disappearing by 2035 according to the International Commission for Snow and Ice (ICSI). This will cause severe water scarcity and environmental problems for the Panjabi people living on the tributaries of the Indus River and who rely on the melting ice and snow for irrigation water. Another problem is the glacial lakes formed on the headwaters of the Indus River and its tributaries by the melting glaciers. A recent study in Pakistan has identified 52 glacial lakes that have been classified as potentially dangerous. Many of these lakes have the potential to result in severe human and material losses and environmental devastation in Panjab.

Changes in Rainfall
Global warming is expected to result in climatic extremes in Panjab. In addition, it is also expected to cause changes to the monsoons, which are likely to reduce the water sources of the Indus River system and directly affect the people of Panjab. In spite of the fact that monsoon rains in Panjab are sporadic and not very strong, there have been years when they have been heavy and this has led to significant flooding. If climate change raises the intensity and frequency of monsoons here, then there is a likelihood of increased flood risk, storms and hailstones. However, The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change in 2006 predicts that 'all Indian states will experience increased rainfall, except Punjab, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu where rainfall will decrease'. Hence, there is actually a likelihood of reduced rainfall in Panjab in the coming years, which result in increased drought and desertification.

Effect on Rivers
Streams and rivers that once provided fresh and clear water will no longer flow. This is visible even today with choes (seasonal rivulets) in the Shivalik foothills in Punjab state drying up. Even if streams do flow, they will turn into torrents and cause flash floods in the rainy season, carrying away millions of tonnes of soil. Thus, a dry river basin where rivers flow through a semi-arid region like Panjab will be particularly affected by climate change.

Drought and Desertification
Drought in various parts of Punjab state are probably the result of climate change according to R. Pachauri, chief of IPCC. Unusually hot winds will keep away the regular monsoon rains, bringing drought to Panjab. This will intensify with the coming years resulting in the increased desertification of Panjab.

Impact on Agriculture
There will be a major effect on agrosystems in Panjab due to climate change. The depletion of soil water will result in moisture stress, poor harvest and lower productivity. Global warming would, however, promote better yields of winter crops like legumes and reduce frost damage of oilseeds. It might result in the reduction of the growing season of rice and cotton, allowing farmers to plant an additional leguminous crop. However, the increase in the need for irrigation will probably lead to higher costs of production. Additionally, climate change would also affect the landuse patterns of agriculture and herding. Further, the desiccation of semi-arid areas would also endanger food production in the plains of Panjab. The economic liberalization of Panjab will be essential to the opening up of agriculture, which will lead to a diversification of cropping patterns in the changing climatic patterns.

Environmental Refugees
Environmental refugees are people fleeing environmental degradation caused by a combination of forces that are predominantly elemental or artificial. The very survival of the Panjabi people in a sustainable environment is now seriously at risk. Thousands of rural Panjabis have already left the land, moving to the urban slums of India and Pakistan and thousands more have migrated to Europe (especially Britain), USA and Canada. But the scale will be immense when desertification sets in with millions being forced to move out of Panjab.

Jagat jalandaa rakh lai aapnee kirpaa Dhaar.
jit du-aarai ubrai titai laihu ubaar.
'The world is going up in flames, shower it with Your Mercy!
Save it, and deliver it, by whatever means it takes'.
This Shabad is by Guru Amar Das in Shalok
of Raag Bilaaval on page 853 of the Guru Granth Sahib

Sacred Q - Climate Change Fire
Himalayan glacier after retreat
Himalayan glacier after retreat

Mountain slope after
glacial retreat

Himalayan Glacial Lake formed after 1953
Himalayan Glacial Lake formed after 1953

Glacial lake in Himalyan mountains

Flood damage at Ghaggar
Flood damage at Ghaggar

Floods on Ghaggar river

Desert edge
Desert edge

Encroaching desert

Climate change 1
Climate change 1

Future for Panjab?