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The Vulnerability of Pakistan's Water Sector to the Impacts of Climate Change: Identification of gaps and recommendations for action

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Already classified as water stressed, Pakistan could become a water scarce country by 2035 due to population growth, industrial development, rapid urbanization, greater saline intrusion and large-scale contamination of surface and ground water supplies. Climate change will place additional stress on this significant challenge.

Climate change is expected to lead to changing patterns of monsoon rains, winter precipitation, and snow and ice melt that will alter the spatial and temporal distribution of water in Pakistan. Despite increasing awareness of these risks, a synthesis of existing knowledge of how water supply and demand could be affected by changing climatic conditions was identified as a need by Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change. The availability of this analysis would support implementation of Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy commitments in sectors such as agriculture, forestry, national disaster planning and hydropower development.  

The project “Vulnerability of Pakistan’s Water Sector to the Impacts of Climate Change” was undertaken to address this gap. Launched in July 2015, its goal was to improve decision-making capacity within government ministries, research institutes and the general public in relation to water resources management in a changing climate.

The project was expected to contribute to the development of a comprehensive assessment of the vulnerability of Pakistan’s water sector to the impacts of climate change and the preparation of a National Water Sector Adaptation Plan. IISD worked in collaboration with Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change, the United Nations Development Programme in Pakistan and the Centre for Climate Research and Development at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology in the implementation of this project.

Key findings of the project included:

  • In the near term, climate change is more likely to impact timing of peak flow and river flow volume and due to variability in precipitation, rather than annual overall flow volume from glacial and nival (snow melt) sources.
  • Existing knowledge regarding the complex hydrological regime of the Upper Indus Basin is limited, which impedes development of clear projections of long-term water availability.
  • Water demand will continue to increase alongside population growth, leading to greater water scarcity on a per capita basis and pointing to the need for stronger water management practices.
  • Priorities for action to address identified gaps in knowledge and capacity include accelerating uptake of sustainable irrigation practices by smallholder farmers, strengthening post-secondary education in the area of climate change, establishing a repository of water data and analysis, and modernizing Pakistan’s streamflow monitoring network.

IISD’s involvement in the project built on previous work undertaken in partnership with the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands to develop a work program for adaptation and mitigation in Pakistan that was adopted by the Government in 2014. It also complemented work by IISD’s Energy team to support the development of a low carbon strategy for Pakistan. 

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