Agriculture sector under threat in Islamabad

November 14, 2012 - 6:30:13 am

ISLAMABAD: A report by the federal ministry for environment in Pakistan leaked to the media has warned yet again of increased risks from climate change to the agriculture sector in the years to come.

The report should be enough to shake agriculture planners out of their denial mode to the environmental threats.

Though the report - ‘Vulnerability to climate change threats’  is only a latest addition to the voluminous compendium that already exists on the subject; it is now official having been conducted by the federal ministry, authored by its nominees, who have reached the same conclusions as reached by some international agencies.

Out of nine areas, to which the report refers and where threat perception is increasing, six have direct agricultural consequences. The report claims that the carbonaceous filth has started mixing into Indus water, pouring in from glaciers, which would have hazardous consequences for life of every kind in the waterways throughout.

The activity is taking place in all three mountain ranges - the Hindukush, the Karakoram and the Himalaya - that feed Pakistan rivers.

The report records considerable increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events; recession of glaciers due to global warming and carbon soot deposits from trans-boundary pollution; increased silt in dams caused by frequent, flash and intense floods; increased temperature resulting in enhanced heat- and water-stressed conditions, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions; intrusion of saline water in the Indus delta, threatening coastal agriculture and mangroves and tension between upper and lower riparian in water stress periods.

The current report is only a national confirmation of international observations and has been part of national debate - but without any political consensus how to deal with them. Silting dams is one such example.

Different studies have shown that both major dams have lost almost 30 percent of their storage capacity to silt, and the country has to have more stores to not only make up for the loss but also for development activity.

The only project that the country initiated during the last one decade is Diamir-Bhasha Dam. The ground breaking ceremony for it took place in April 2006. In the last six years, physically not even a brick has moved on the project, which is still a subject of necessary studies.

For the last six years, the nation was told that the World Bank had agreed to fund the project. It suddenly transpired two months ago that the World Bank never committed and the nation was misled on the subject.

No international financial or development agency is in a position to commit around $14bn. And the World Bank has refused point blank. That is how the successive governments, both democratic and military, wasted time. The report now warns of even faster silting of dams and adds to the urgency of building new ones.

The sea intrusion, safety of coastal agriculture and mangroves, all depend on new dams for regulated and sustained water supply. 

Hopefully, it is now taken more seriously. Second area where the reports fires warning shorts is extreme weather events. In the last two years, the country has already suffered every dimension of these event; exceptional flooding, drought falling in between and then flash floods sweeping adjoining plains.

The country is still dealing with the aftermaths of flash floods in some parts. Parallel to the flood damages, it is also suffering close to 20 percent water shortage. One way of dealing with the extreme weather events is developing seeds that could absorb that kind of shocks.

These extreme events would have multiplied consequences for arid and semi-arid soils, which make the bulk of farming. These soils have limited capacity to take such shocks. Thus, the only option is to go for development of seed sector.