Sunday, May 25, 2014

As mountain snow fails and glaciers melt, Pakistan faces water threats

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Farmers in the valleys of northern Pakistan fear for the survival of their summer crops after a short winter of low snowfall altered the flow patterns of mountain streams, potentially robbing the farmers of water they rely on to irrigate their fields.

Experts at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) and senior weather observers posted at stations in Pakistan's Upper Indus Basin (UIB) say last winter's snowfall in most of the valleys of the Gilgit-Balistan province was as much as 70 percent below that of previous years.

"Not only was snowfall abysmally low, but it also started late by over two months," said Mohammad Amin, meteorologist at PMD's observatory station in Skardu district, where the Shigar River joins the Indus River in the shadow of the Karakoram mountain range. "And it started to melt in March instead of late April in most of the valleys of Skardu."

The early thaw meant the swelling of mountain streams months earlier than usual, said Musa Khan, head of the weather observatory station in Gupis in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan province. That could be devastating for farmers, who usually only start readying their lands for summer crops in May.

"The farmers prepare for cultivating summer crops from late May to the end of June, when rising temperatures usually cause the glacial-fed channels and streams to start flowing and irrigate the ploughed terraced fields," Khan told Thomson Reuters Foundation....

A glacier in Pakistan's Swat Valley, shot by Isruma, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

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