The United Nations has reiterated that the biggest threat faced by the human race in the modern history is that of ‘climate change’ (United Nations, 2021). Extreme dry seasons, unusual Monsoon rainfall and glacial retreat are some of the common environmental challenges the world is facing. What’s more disturbing is that these challenges and climatic changes are more obvious, consistent, and intense in South Asia.
South Asia is home to the most densely populated countries such as India and Pakistan, and lowest lying country such as Bangladesh and the Maldives. According to the Germanwatch, India and Pakistan ranked among the top twenty most affected countries in the 21st century, owing to recurring environmental and climatic changes (Kugelman, 2021).
In 2021, Pakistan and India stood at 8th and 14th on the Climate Risk Index, respectively. Over 500,000 people have died on both sides of the border owing to frequent environmental challenges and human-induce climate change. Moreover, in 2020 ninety-nine cities out of two-hundred were ranked as most polluted cities which were located in India and Pakistan.
Air pollution is now killing more people in India and Pakistan than terrorism which both countries see as a bone of contention in their bilateral relations. Similarly, both neighbouring yet antagonist countries faces frequent heatwaves and droughts during annual summer season. India and Pakistan also lies at the foot of Himalayan mountain ranges which, according to numerous observations, is the most susceptible to climate change compare to other mountain range across the world. Hence, heavy rainfalls and floods have become a come phenomenon during annual monsoon season.
One of the main contributors to heavy rains and floods are Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GOLF) which are common in Indus Water Basin during the summer seasons. Furthermore, some of the common environmental challenges and climate-induce changes faced by India and Pakistan are explained in detail as follows;
Common Environmental Challenges in India and Pakistan
The first victim of the changing climate is the Indus River Basin (IWB). Indus River Basin is a transboundary river basin which has its origin in the Himalayan mountain range and originates from Tibet Plateau. India and Pakistan are renowned for their agriculture sector and millions of people and their livelihood depends on Indus Water Basin and its tributaries.
According to the Economic Survey of India (181-186: 2020), agriculture in India contributes around 18% to the total GDP and source of livelihood for over 70% of the population, mainly in rural areas. But the contribution and livelihood opportunities are shrinking by each passing year. Pakistan also faces similar trends in the context of agriculture and its role in absorbing the largest workforce in the country. According to the economic survey of Pakistan (17: 2019-20), the contribution of agriculture to GDP is following a decline as it only aids 19.3% to the total GDP in 2020.
There can be other reasons, but the scientists have revealed that the climate change is one of the major reasons behind the changing nature of the Indus Basin (Shidore 07: 2020) which eventually impact livelihood of millions across the border.
The second and the most obvious impact of changing climate is the melting of snow and retreating glaciers in Karakorum and Himalayan ranges. These mountain ranges hold world largest number of glaciers outside the North Pole. Being susceptible to the changing climate, these glaciers also pose the biggest threat to livelihood in India and Pakistan. Global average temperature is increasing, but according to the report (IPCC AR5) South Asia is facing substantial increase in the average temperature annually. This increase in temperature leads to the phenomenon of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GOLF) which results in floods as witnessed in Pakistan between 2009 and 2010 summer.
Similarly, floods are the most common environmental challenge India and Pakistan are facing. The super floods of 2010, took lives of nearly1600 people, displaced millions and caused damages of worth $10 billion (Kirsch et al 03: 2012). Since 2010, Pakistan is facing floods in every monsoon season. Similarly, over 2,100 had died during monsoon rains in India in 2019, which also affected 2.5 million people in 22 provinces (India Today, 2019). Floods are the most common impact of climate change that India and Pakistan are facing. If India and Pakistan keep behaving like ‘business as usual’, both neighbouring countries can face agonizing impacts.
Yet another environmental challenge India and Pakistan are facing quite often, is heatwaves and droughts. Even Europe is not protected from the wrath of increasing global temperature and every year is warmer than the previous one. Similarly, with each passing year, changing climate are exacerbating the impacts of these heatwaves and droughts in India and Pakistan. In 2015 alone, over 2000 people have lost their lives to heatwaves in the financial hub of Pakistan i.e. Karachi and its surrounding districts, as temperature reached 45 degree Celsius (Haider & Anis, 2015). During the same summer, the heatwave took lives of 2,300 people in the next door neighbour India (Liberto, 2015).
Furthermore, frequent delays in monsoon rains couple with excruciating heat wave leads to drought like situations in India and Pakistan. Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has sited that Pakistan has already crossed the water scarcity line back in 2005 (Ahasn, 2019) and will run out of water by 2025.
In addition, worsening air quality is one of the most recurrent human-induce phenomenon India and Pakistan are facing. For almost five consecutive year cities in India and Pakistan remain among the top ten most polluted cities in the world. By November 2021, 48 cities from India and Pakistan made it to the list of top hundred most polluted cities in the world (Duggal, 2021). In India, the worsening quality of air is choking people across the country at a very critical rate, as more and more people are dying by each passing year. Most of the health issues people face are strokes, respiratory complexities, lungs disorder, asthma and cardiovascular diseases.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human-induced climate change and environmental challenges will be more frequent and severely impact the already vulnerable states in South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan. Furthermore, the trans-boundary nature of the above mentioned common environmental challenges, environmental cooperation between India and Pakistan is inevitable and can act as an opportunity for breaking the deadlock and create avenues for cooperation. Given the stringent bi-relations, common environmental challenges demands India and Pakistan to cooperate and work closely to counter the impact of frequently changing climate.
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Duggal, Hanna. “Infographic: The 100 most polluted cities in the world.” AlJazeera, November 22, 2021. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/11/22/infographic-the-worlds-100-most-polluted-cities-interactive
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Kirsch, D. Thomas., Wadhwani, Christina., Sauer, Lauren., Doocy, Shanoon., & Catlett, Christina (2010). “Impact of the 2010 Pakistan Floods on Rural and Urban Populations at Six Months.” US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health, pp, 03.
Kugelman, Michael. “South Asia is on the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis.” Foreign Policy, August 12, 2021. https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/08/12/south-asia-climate-ipcc-report-front-lines/
Liberto, Di Tom. “India Heat Wave Kills Thousands.” Cliamte.gov, June 09, 2015. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/event-tracker/india-heat-wave-kills-thousands
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United Nations. “Climate Change ‘Biggest Threat Modern Human have ever Faced’, World-Renowned Naturalist Tells Security Council, Call for Greater Global Cooperation.” February 23, 2021.