LAHORE: Over the past 30 years (1975–2005), the minimum temperature of Punjab has increased by 0.97°C and the maximum temperature by 1.14°C, putting it on the list of most vulnerable regions to climate change.

Increased intensity of floods, droughts and heat waves are the direct outcomes of climate change and it is also making the national food security vulnerable. In 2022, Punjab experienced torrential rains and severe floods damaging over 438,000 acres of crops/orchards, 733,000 livestock and up to 50% of water systems. Cost of loss and damages from 2022 floods in Southern Punjab was estimated to be 566 and 515 million USD respectively.

This has been claimed in the Punjab State of Environment Report 2022 published recently by the Environment Protection Department (EPD) and released to media. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the conditions of various aspects of the environment such as air, water, soil, wastewater and solid waste management in Punjab.

Water seepage from unlined canals has resulted in rise of water table in the vast irrigated plains causing the issues of water-logging and soil salinity. The cost of degradation of Indus River basin is estimated to be over 216 million USD per year, with 50% from agricultural losses due to water-logging and soil salinity and 50% from loss of ecological services of Delta.

In Punjab, 56% of total geographical area is cultivated which is mainly attributed to its rich, fertile alluvial soils and extensive irrigation system. Punjab is providing over 68% of the national annual yield of food grains and is known as the bread basket of Pakistan.

Punjab has a great diversity of forest reserves, protected areas, biodiversity, rivers and canals network, alluvial plains, coal and mineral resources that make up significant contributions to the economy of Pakistan. The strategic location of the Province, its fertile agricultural land and its well developed infrastructure make it the economic hub of the country.

Punjab is the most populous province in the country and therefore state of the environment in the province holds significant importance in deciding the economic growth of the country. Proliferating human population and the intensified demand for resource consumption and production have resulted in deteriorated environmental conditions in the province. Punjab is facing the consequences of climate change at a faster pace.

Monitoring of the ambient air quality of Lahore in the year 2022 revealed that there were only 17 days of good or satisfactory AQI (PM2.5) out of the total 309 monitored days. One-day monitoring of the other nine divisional headquarters during November and December shows moderate air quality with 5 out of 9 cities showing good/satisfactory AQI (PM2.5) values.

Long-term exposure to particulate matter puts serious health implications on public health such as exacerbation of respiratory infections, allergies, eye infections and cardiac diseases. The health costs and productivity slowdown of air pollution will continue to burden economic growth of the country. The rate of deaths attributable to air pollution (including indoor PM2.5, and ozone) in Pakistan is also well above global averages.

World Bank estimates Pakistan’s annual burden of disease from outdoor air pollution to be responsible for around 22,000 premature adult deaths and 163,432 DALYs. Avoidable deaths attributed to ischemic heart disease and lung cancer in Pakistan accounts to over 2 million people and the total cost related to this mortality is 1 billion USD.

WHO reports that the exceeding levels of air pollution have resulted in the loss of 5.3 and 4.8 years of life expectancy from 1998-2016 among populations of Lahore and Faisalabad cities respectively. Strengthening of regulatory framework, enhanced air quality monitoring with apportionment studies, controlling industrial emissions by implementation of resource efficiency and cleaner production technologies and vehicular emissions by increasing public transportation, strengthening of vehicular inspection certification system, retiring excessively old vehicles, installation of catalytic converters/diesel particulate filter, adoption of latest Euro Standards for vehicular emissions and vehicle manufacturing are required for the betterment of air quality.

Water scarcity and water pollution are the other key issues in the Province. Poor agricultural and industrial practices are leading to resource wastage thereby affecting per capita water availability. Over 90% of food production in the country comes from irrigated agriculture.

In spite of having the world’s largest contagious irrigation system in the Province, there is a gap between supply and demand and the deficit is covered by the supply from groundwater.

Currently, over 75% of groundwater is supplied for irrigation purposes. The rapidly drying water resources are not only threat to the economy but also to the national food security.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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