Heatwaves In Pakistan: Threats, Effects & Causes

It’s hard to think of summer in Pakistan, without any negative connotation attached to it. This merciless season is made better only with the arrival of fruits such as mangoes and watermelon, and the monsoon rain. However, in the last couple of years, Pakistani summers have grown troublesome for most people because of increased temperatures that seem to be climbing up each year. Experts note that this is caused by heatwaves; a natural phenomena that occurs due to ‘trapped air’ which heats up to unprecedented levels through sunlight. Heatwaves in Pakistan have become common since the summer of 2015 when more than 2,000 people as well as zoo animals in southern Pakistan died due to heatstroke and dehydration. With heatwaves in Pakistan becoming a seasonal occurrence, this is all you need to know about this phenomenon.

Heatwaves In Pakistan

Heatwave is caused by when air gets trapped

This year, Pakistan’s summer approached slowly, with much of April and May relatively pleasant. However, as soon as June began, the temperatures started to increase exponentially, reaching 47 to 48°C in Central Punjab, and parts of Sindh, whereas in Azad Jammu and Kashmir the temperatures have risen past 34°C. But the temperature keeps increasing.

While the Pakistan Meteorological Department had predicted hot and dry weather in most parts of the country, the heatwave in Pakistan 2021 has taken a serious toll on citizens. Let’s explore all the latest updates to find the most affected areas by heatwave.

Central Punjab

Starting from 31st May, temperatures have been on a continuous rise in cities of Central Punjab, crossing 47°C during the first ten days of the month. With little to no wind and breeze, the trapped heat has wreaked havoc, especially in the recently-opened schools.

On June 9, more than 25 school-going students reportedly fainted in a single day in Islamabad with nose bleeds due to the sweltering heat. As Punjab is the main region from where most of our fresh produce and high-yield crops come from, the drastic changes in climate have raised concerns for the farmers who use this time for transporting their fresh produce to markets.

AJ&K

In the scenic valley of Kashmir, the temperatures have crossed 34°C. This has never happened before, and in a region which is primarily known for its beautiful valleys, green landscapes, and pleasant weather, most of the houses too are built without electrical fans and do not have air conditioners.

The uncharacteristic increase in temperatures have made it harder for people to adapt.

Sindh & Balochistan

In Sindh, temperatures in cities like Sukkur can climb to 44 to 46°C during summer months, however, the coastal city of Karachi the sea breeze helps in regulating the temperature. But since 2015, summer temperatures in this coastal city have maintained their upwards trajectory. This year too a high of 43°C was recorded during the last week of May, with very little wind.

In Balochistan’s belt of Nokkundi, Dalbandin, Noorpur Thal 48°C, Dadu, and Bhakkar reach almost 49°C.

However, the impact of the heatwaves is not limited to Pakistan. Environmental experts have predicted that this will be the hottest summer around the world as countries will experience one of the highest temperatures ever. You can protect yourself from the adverse effects of a heatwave, such as severe dehydration and/or heatstroke by following tips in this blog. Let’s try to understand why the world is heating up.

Causes of Heatwaves

The earth heating up or heatwaves are a phenomena of global warming, which humans are battling on every front. This is caused by:

Environmental degradation

Mangroves in Sindh and Balochistan
Pollution, climate change and deforestation are the biggest challenges faced by mangrove forests

As much as we need a healthy ecosystem and environment to survive, our actions have proved to be dangerous for our ecosystems. Deforestation, pollution of rivers, carbon dioxide emissions in the air have all contributed towards the natural balances. As a result of this, the mechanism behind land and sea breezes have been disturbed and the presence of hydrocarbons in the air creates a natural greenhouse which traps the heat, rather than reflecting it back.

The most adverse effect of this has been due to a drastic decrease in forest cover, throughout the world. These Earth’s lungs help purify the air and regulate temperature, but when forests are cut, primarily for construction activities, there is little that they can do for protecting the environment and human life.

Urban heat jungles

The effect of urban heat jungles is a common feature of towns and cities, and occurs as a result of concrete structures. These concrete structures have a tendency to absorb heat. This coupled with heat generated by transport, shops, and industry gets trapped and is unable to escape to the atmosphere, significantly raising the city’s temperatures, as well as its surroundings. This can increase the temperature in urban areas by 3 to 4°C, leading to a vicious cycle of increased demand for energy consumption such as for cooling etc. This causes higher fossil fuel consumption, leading to the release of pollutants in the air. 

These are the main reasons that scientists posit for global warming. Increased temperatures, such as those being experienced in Pakistan currently are a direct result of such human activity. With heatwaves, there are numerous risks involved; primarily related to health and agriculture.

Construction activities

Construction activities are being carried out in fertile land
Construction activities are causing environmental problems

As the demand for housing increases, and so does the need for expanding business activities, catering to increased energy consumption; construction activities also increase. This is something that is closely related to a country’s pace of modernization.

However, the way we construct is not sustainable or environmentally friendly. This is with regards to the construction material we choose, as well as the sites. Turning fertile and agricultural land into sites for industrial complexes is one of the many ways human actions have adversely contributed towards environmental degradation.

Threats Posed by Heat Waves

Effects of heatwaves in a country like Pakistan are two-fold; in agriculture and on human health.

Health

Higher temperatures contribute to heat-related deaths and heat-related illnesses such as respiratory difficulties, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Deaths due to heatstroke have become a serious concern for Pakistani authorities as in 2015 alone, 2,000 people died due to increased temperatures. Most of the deaths occurred in Karachi as the sea breeze completely stopped, and the ‘heat islands’ further exacerbated the problem.

In such a calamity, sensitive populations, such as children, older adults, and those with existing health conditions, are particularly at risk. It is therefore advised to avoid going out in the sun unnecessarily, avoid exertion, and consume foods that will keep you cool and prevent dehydration.

Agriculture

Agricultural land can become infertile due to heat
Agricultural land can become dry due to extended exposure to heat

Increased temperature also causes flooding due to melting of glaciers, and erratic rain patterns. This is a problem for agricultural produce, which can be uprooted in the process. In addition to this, increased temperatures also soak up the moisture from the earth, rendering an agricultural land as infertile.

Increased temperatures can also dry up rivers, the main source of water for agricultural produce. In addition to this, it can also kill crops or rot fresh vegetables and fruits.

Heatwaves are becoming a common feature of the summer season. However, in recent years they have caused widespread devastation.  

Heatwaves around the globe

Some of the most devastating effects of heat waves are:

Australia’s Bushfire Crisis

Australia’s Bushfire Crisis began in June 2019 and lasted till May 2020. This long period of devastation in which almost 1 billion animal species died is also known as Black Summer. While bushfires are a cyclical event in Australia, the devastation caused by these was something never seen before in the country’s history, and was something that could not be easily balanced by the ecosystem. The fires burnt 46 million acres of land and killed 34 people. This crisis prolonged primarily because of delayed rainfall and persistent high temperatures.

Australia's Bushfire Crisis 2019-2020 was caused by hot and dry weather
Australia’s Bushfire Crisis 2019-2020

California Wildfires 2020

Wildfires in California 2020 swallowed 4 million acres of land, displacing people and killing 33. More than 20,000 firefighters worked to extinguish 8,200 fires but it was only when rains began that the catastrophe was finally over. These were caused by persistent hot and dry weather.

This year too, the authorities have already issued a red warning, the highest alert for fire which also signals evacuation.

Melting of ice caps

Polar ice caps are melting due to increased temperature
Increased temperature causing polar ice caps to melt

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate of 9% per decade, whereas the thickness of Arctic Ice has overall decreased by 40% since the 1960s.

The melting of ice caps increases sea levels which causes flooding in low-lying coastal regions. In addition to this the higher sea levels and rising temperatures cause hurricanes and typhoons, which are natural disasters that devastate all forms of life.

It is essential that you protect yourself and others from heatwaves, while also being conscious of the choices you make in terms of its impact on the environment. You can also share your tips at blog@zameen.com. To find out more about what’s happening in Pakistan, keep checking Zameen Blog, Pakistan’s largest property blog for the latest updates.