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Climate Change with the Context of Balochistan

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Geopolitical and Economic Context of Balochistan

The geopolitical context of Balochistan province in Pakistan is complex and multifaceted, shaped by a combination of historical, strategic, and ethnic factors. Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province in terms of land area, covers approximately 43.6 percent of Pakistan’s total land area and is situated in the southwestern part of the country (Map 1). Conversely, it holds the distinction of being the least populous province, accounting for -6.2 percent of the nation’s total population out of which -69 percent lives in rural areas.’

It shares borders with Iran to the west and Afghanistan to the north. Its geostrategic significance stems from its proximity to the Arabian Sea and the Strait of Hormuz, a critical maritime chokepoint through which approximately 20-30 percent of the world’s oil supply flows.’ This geographical position has made Balochistan a focal point for regional and global powers, as control over the province offers leverage in shaping the dynamics of the broader region. Connectivity assumes a paramount strategic significance in the context of Balochistan, given its geographical remoteness both from the vital artery of the River Indus, which serves as a lifeline for the nation, and the national trade and economic corridor that runs parallel to the Indus. As a result, Balochistan finds itself somewhat isolated from these two pivotal drivers of economic growth within the country.

This isolation has historically hindered Balochistan from fully harnessing the potential benefits of its substantial hydrocarbon resources, primarily due to the considerable distances involved. This same challenge now looms large over the prospects of the Gwadar port’s development and the exploitation of Balochistan’s mineral wealth.’

Despite some limited expansions in the road network (Map 2) in the past, the overall road density in Balochistan remains markedly deficient, standing at a mere 0.09 km per km2—significantly lower than national and provincial averages in Pakistan. Hence, Balochistan’s strategic location has made it a focus of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the BRI, passes through Balochistan, covering approximately 2,000 kilometers and linking the southwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.

Economically, over the last two decades, Balochistan’s Gross Provincial Product (GPP) growth remained between 3.3-3.5 percent, primarily owing to the dismal performance of the agriculture and commodity-producing sectors. However, growth in the electricity, gas, and transport sectors has been spectacular with an average growth of 32 percent in the same period.4 The multidimensional poverty in Balochistan was highest with a multidimensional poverty index (MPI) score of 71.2 percent in 2015 (with an even higher scorer of 84.6 percent in the rural areas) compared to the national MPI score of 38.8 percent.’ Politically, Balochistan suffers from underrepresentation in national decision-making and receives lower development budget allocations despite the higher cost of delivery due to low population density. This further undermines the efforts to alleviate poverty in Balochistan.

Balochistan’s geopolitical dynamics, therefore, involve a delicate balance between economic 1(! development, security concerns, and ethnic aspirations, making it a critical area to watch in South Asia’s ever-evolving geopolitical landscape.

Current Climate Trends and Projections

Climate vulnerability in Balochistan is a pressing concern in the context of contemporary climate change. This vulnerability arises from a convergence of geographical, climatological, and socio-economic factors that heighten the region’s susceptibility to adverse climate impacts. Balochistan’s topographical layout and climatic conditions predispose it to water scarcity, with fluctuations in precipitation patterns (Map 3Error! Reference source not found.) and increased evaporation rates playing significant roles in exacerbating water stress. Elevated temperatures further compound this vulnerability, leading to more frequent and intense heatwaves that challenge the region’s adaptive capacity.

The agricultural sector, a cornerstone of Balochistan’s economy, faces notable vulnerabilities. Climate change-induced shifts in rainfall patterns and temperature variations have substantial impacts on crop yields, disrupting established agricultural practices and posing threats to food security. Coastal regions, such as Gwadar, are particularly affected by sea-level rise and coastal erosion. Balochistan is also susceptible to extreme weather events, including cyclones, storms, and flash floods, which increase risks to human lives, disrupt infrastructure, and necessitate heightened preparedness and resilience strategies. These climatic shifts directly impact livelihoods, including herding, farming, and fishing, potentially resulting in adverse socio-economic consequences. Droughts are a characteristic and recurrent climatic event in Balochistan. While the province has experienced several prolonged drought spells, the extended dry periods observed from 1995 to 2018 represent the most severe and protracted arid conditions.

These droughts have led to a significant scarcity of water, profoundly affecting local livelihood activities and the environment. Regions notably impacted by recurring droughts include Kalat, Chagai, Naukundi, and Zhob within the province. Furthermore, the use of precipitation data to quantify meteorological droughts reveals that various areas of Balochistan experience short-term summer and winter droughts. North-western Balochistan frequently experiences moderate to severe winter droughts due to varying annual intensities of westerly disturbances, while summer droughts are linked to deficient monsoon precipitation, particularly common in north-eastern and eastern Balochistan.

The 2022 floods highlighted the deep climatic vulnerabilities in Balochistan (Map 4), with damages accounting for 15 percent of the recovery and reconstruction needs. Balochistan experienced unprecedented levels of rainfall, surpassing typical monthly averages by sevenfold. Research attributes these extreme precipitation events to climate warming of estimated 1.2°C, resulting in approximately 75 percent more intense five-day rainfall.

Sea-level rise along the Balochistan coastline is a recognised phenomenon driven primarily by thermal expansion of seawater due to rising global temperatures and accelerated melting of polar ice caps and glaciers. The consequences include coastal erosion, increased estuarine salinity, and submersion of low-lying areas, posing significant threats to critical infrastructure like ports and coastal roads (Map 5). This necessitates strategic adaptation and mitigation measures to enhance resilience against this climatic impact.

Heatwaves are increasingly problematic in Balochistan, particularly during summers, with cities like Turbat and Sibi experiencing exceptionally high temperatures. The highest-ever recorded temperature in Pakistan, reaching 52°C, occurred in Turbat in 2017. An increase in the frequency of heatwave events is expected toward the end of the century, affecting multiple provinces, including Balochistan. With global warming continuing, Balochistan’s climatic threats are likely to intensify. High temperatures may exacerbate drought conditions and worsen heatwaves, while erratic rainfall patterns can influence hydrological extremes of droughts and floods. Urgent and targeted measures are needed to address the adverse effects of this increasingly challenging climate scenario.

Vulnerable Sectors and Communities

Climate change has brought about significant alterations in the environmental conditions of Balochistan, thereby posing substantial threats to critical sectors in the region. These sectors encompass agriculture, water resources, public health, infrastructure, and coastal areas. A comprehensive understanding of the vulnerabilities inherent in each sector is imperative for the formulation and execution of informed adaptation and resilience measures. These measures should align with sustainable development objectives and work towards bolstering the overall resilience of Balochistan in the face of a shifting climate.

Analyses of climate data and agricultural production have unveiled a moderate variability in mean temperatures coupled with erratic changes in annual precipitation patterns. These climatic shifts exert considerable influence on agricultural yields, leading to a consistent decline in production over time. Over the past two decades, farmers have observed discernible alterations in rainfall patterns and temperature dynamics.

The unpredictability of weather patterns disrupts their preparatory measures. Specifically, farmers have witnessed changes in traditional rainfall patterns characterised by shortened rainy periods, intermittent dry spells during rainy seasons, an early onset of rains, and an overall reduction in average rainfall. These erratic and constant shifts have rendered it increasingly challenging for farmers to accurately anticipate and forecast rainfall, thus complicating agricultural planning and management.

The recurrent droughts have not only negatively impacted crop yields but have also significantly hindered rangeland productivity. The persistent pressure stemming from overgrazing and fuelwood extraction in sparsely vegetated areas, combined with a shift in agricultural composition towards minor crops, has exacerbated the strain on the region’s ecosystems. Balochistan’s agricultural sector heavily relies on groundwater sourced through tubewells. However, this dependence has been significantly disrupted due to recurring droughts and excessive aquifer exploitation.

An alarming 70 percent of Balochistan’s farmers grapple with the severe issue of inadequate access to a consistent water supply, be it from canals or minor irrigation schemes. The decline in groundwater levels has rendered the karez system non-functional, profoundly affecting community livelihoods, especially in rural areas. Consequently, communities are left dependent either on erratic rainfall or the extraction of groundwater through tubewells.

This predicament is further compounded by the absence of rainwater harvesting systems, inefficient irrigation practices, and a prevailing focus among farmers on cultivating water-intensive crops. Water scarcity in Balochistan is poised to intensify soon due to urbanization and climate changes. This collective scenario underscores the urgent need for comprehensive water management strategies and the adoption of climate-smart technology.

Given its high degree of sensitivity and notably low adaptive capacity to the impacts of climate change, Balochistan’s healthcare sector faces a range of potential health repercussions. These include heightened risks of food insecurity and malnutrition due to adverse effects on agricultural productivity. Additionally, drought stress and floodwater contamination create breeding grounds for pathogens in reduction in average rainfall. These erratic and constant shifts have rendered it increasingly challenging for farmers to accurately anticipate and forecast rainfall, thus complicating agricultural planning and management.

The recurrent droughts have not only negatively impacted crop yields but have also significantly hindered rangeland productivity. The persistent pressure stemming from overgrazing and fuelwood extraction in sparsely vegetated areas, combined with a shift in agricultural composition towards minor crops, has exacerbated the strain on the region’s ecosystems. Balochistan’s agricultural sector heavily relies on groundwater sourced through tubewells.

However, this dependence has been significantly disrupted due to recurring droughts and excessive aquifer exploitation. An alarming 70 percent of Balochistan’s farmers grapple with the severe issue of inadequate access to a consistent water supply, be it from canals or minor irrigation schemes. The decline in groundwater levels has rendered the karez system non-functional, profoundly affecting community livelihoods, especially in rural areas.

Consequently, communities are left dependent either on erratic rainfall or the extraction of groundwater through tubewells. This predicament is further compounded by the absence of rainwater harvesting systems, inefficient irrigation practices, and a prevailing focus among farmers on cultivating water-intensive crops. Water scarcity in Balochistan is poised to intensify soon due to urbanization and climate changes. This collective scenario underscores the urgent need for comprehensive water management strategies and the adoption of climate-smart technology.

Given its high degree of sensitivity and notably low adaptive capacity to the impacts of climate change, Balochistan’s healthcare sector faces a range of potential health repercussions. These include heightened risks of food insecurity and malnutrition due to adverse effects on agricultural productivity. Additionally, drought stress and floodwater contamination create breeding grounds for pathogens in water bodies.

The quality of water in Balochistan, as assessed through physicochemical and microbiological parameters, falls below satisfactory levels. Across most districts, contamination by microorganisms has been identified, posing significant health risks. These contaminated water sources have been linked to the transmission of diseases such as gastroenteritis, Cryptosporidium infection, intestinal worms, giardiasis, and typhoid.

The Cholera outbreak during the 2022 floods in Balochistan serves as a stark example of these challenges. The outbreak spread rapidly, claiming lives, as healthcare facilities remained inadequately equipped to respond effectively. This precarious situation necessitates urgent and comprehensive measures to ensure the provision of safe and clean drinking water to safeguard public health and mitigate the prevalence of waterborne diseases. Addressing these health challenges is paramount to ensure the well-being and resilience of the population in the face of a changing climate.

Furthermore, the rising sea levels pose a critical and escalating threat, exerting substantial pressure on coastal regions and resulting in transformative impacts on their environmental dynamics. Flood events, particularly pronounced in coastal areas like Pasni, Gwadar, and Sonmiani, present significant risks to both the natural and built environment. This encompasses potential damage to agricultural yields, residential structures, and essential water delivery infrastructure. Effectively addressing these challenges demands a scientifically informed and proactive approach aimed at enhancing resilience and promoting sustainable development in vulnerable coastal zones.

Courtesy: REDD+ Pakistan

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