Climate Change-Induced Water Scarcity: A Threat to Human Health

Climate change might affect the development of water scarcity least in many areas of the Pakistan. Water scarcity means not only the availability but also the quality of water and sanitation. Climate change might reduce the capacity of the state to provide health care to the population. Thereby, climate change has direct and indirect impacts on human security and hence health effects may result from (climate change induced) water scarcity. Mainly developing countries will be affected by water scarcity due to their population increase. Water scarcity may lead to a reduction of institutional resources and thereby to a lack in the health care system. Therefore, climate change causes different factors which may promote local and/or transnational conflicts. This impacts the human security and health. Even though climate change is not the only reason for water scarcity, it may affect political and social conflicts and has thereby impact on populations’ health.

Climate changes could cause water stress, food insecurity, soil degradation, natural disasters, and environmental migration. There is a growing consensus among scientists that climate change is creating a physical shortage of water which is likely to be a source of regional and international conflicts. The concept of water scarcity needs to be understood in both global and regional contexts. Hydrologists typically assess scarcity by looking at the population-water equation. From the water stress index, when a country falls below 1000 m3 of fresh water per person per year, it is considered a water-scarce country; and if it is below 500 m3, the country is considered to be in absolute water scarcity. It is reported that currently about 1.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and this figure will be 2.7 to 3.5 billion people by 2025 if effective steps are not taken to mitigate the water scarcity problem .

Water scarcity is also a barrier to basic sanitation and hygiene and can lead to the spread of infections such as trachoma, scabies, etc. that can otherwise be prevented by promoting washing and improving hygiene (water-washed diseases). Stagnant water also provides an essential habitat for the intermediate hosts of important parasites. Human infection can result following exposure to water in which these hosts and parasites live (water-based diseases) or through the bite of insects that live or breed in water (water-related diseases).

In essence, access to clean water for all human beings cannot be left to market forces: society must ensure the equitable and just distribution of water to all. Otherwise, disease, poverty, and human misery cannot be controlled or minimized. The provision of water and sanitation to disadvantaged sections of society may well be one of the most reliable policies to reduce the burden of disease and improve human health. Put simply, sustainable development goals (SDGs) cannot be achieved without the provision of safe drinking water and appropriate sanitation services to all.

Affect of Climate change and Current Policy in Pakistan

The effect of climate change and global warming on Pakistan, the melting of glacier in the Himalayas, threatening the volumetric flow rate of many of the most important rivers of Pakistan. In Pakistan, such effects are projected to impact millions of lives. As a result of ongoing climate change, the climate of Pakistan has become increasing volatile over the past several decades. This trend is expected to continue.

However, Pakistan makes a tiny contribution to total global greenhouse gas emissions, less than 1% (among the lowest in the world) but it is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change, and it has very low technical and financial capacity to adapt to its adverse impacts.

Climate Change Mitigation Pakistan’s greenhouse gas  emissions are low compared to international standards. In 2008 Pakistan’s total GHG emissions were 310 million tons of CO2 equivalents. These comprised: CO2 54%; Methane (CH4) 36%; Nitrous Oxide (N2O) 9%; Carbon Monoxide (CO) 0.7%; and Non-Methane Volatile Organic Compounds 0.3%. (Source: National GHG inventory 2008). The energy sector is the single largest source of GHG emission in Pakistan; it accounts for nearly 51% of these emissions and is followed by the agriculture sector (39%), industrial processes (6%), land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) (3%) emissions and waste (1%) (Source: National GHG inventory 2008). As such, the most important targets for mitigation efforts focused on reduction of GHG emissions are the energy and agriculture sectors. In the energy sector, integration of climate change and energy policy objectives is particularly important as today’s investment will “lock in” the infrastructure, fuel and technologies to be used for decades to come. Similarly, the building and transport infrastructure put in place today should meet the design needs of the future. Therefore, greater attention must be paid to energy efficiency requirements in building codes and long-term transport planning.

Pakistan’s Climate Change Policy:

The main objectives of Pakistan’s Climate Change Policy include:

1. To pursue sustained economic growth by appropriately addressing the challenges of climate change

2. To integrate climate change policy with other inter-related national policies

3. To focus on pro poor gender sensitive adaptation while also promoting mitigation to the extent possible in a cost effective manner;

4. To ensure water security, food security and energy security of the country in the face of the challenges posed by climate change;

5. To minimize the risks arising from the expected increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and tropical storms

6. To strengthen inter-ministerial decision making and coordination mechanisms on climate change

7. To facilitate effective use of the opportunities, particularly financial, available both nationally and internationally

8. To foster the development of appropriate economic incentives to encourage public and private sector investment in adaptation measures

9. To enhance the awareness, skill and institutional capacity of relevant stakeholders

10. To promote conservation of natural resources and long term sustainability.

Climate Change Threats to Pakistan:

The important climate change threats to Pakistan are:

1. Considerable increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, coupled with erratic monsoon rains causing frequent and intense floods and droughts;

2. Projected recession of the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan (HKH) glaciers due to global warming and carbon soot deposits from trans-boundary pollution sources, threatening water inflows into the Indus River System (IRS);

3. Increased siltation of major dams caused by more frequent and intense floods;

4. Rising temperatures resulting in enhanced heat and water-stressed conditions, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions, leading to reduced agricultural productivity;

5. Further decrease in the already scanty forest cover, from too rapid change in climatic conditions to allow natural migration of adversely affected plant species;

6. Increased intrusion of saline water in the Indus delta, adversely affecting coastal agriculture, mangroves and the breeding grounds of fish;

7. Threat to coastal areas due to projected sea level rise and increased cyclonic activity due to higher sea surface temperatures;

8. Increased stress between upper riparian and lower riparian regions in relation to sharing of water resources;

9. Increased health risks and climate change induced migration.

The above threats lead to major survival concerns for Pakistan, particularly in relation to the country’s water security, food security and energy security.

10. Disaster Preparedness Climate change is likely to increase climate-related natural disasters with the projected increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including floods, droughts, cyclones, landslides triggered by heavy rains and urban flooding due to congestion of storm drainage.


If we see the effort that needs to be made to counter, adapt and mitigate the negative effects of CC, must come as a collaborative effort from all levels of society and all departments of the government as the proposed solutions cannot be tightly packed in a compartment labeled mitigation or adaptation.

However seeing the ground realities of CC, it is pertinent to take adaptation more seriously as identified by government of Pakistan, owing to the debate of the water, food and energy security of the nation. However being a responsible member of international community, Pakistan should also contribute to the global mitigation efforts as discussed above.

Climate Change in the context of Pakistan is posing three big challenges relating to the water, food and energy security of the country. However, a careful Country level analysis shows that all these securities are interlinked and are dependent on each other. A concerted approach by all relevant departments would be beneficial instead of adopting a silo approach. Currently, the stewardship of climate change rests with the   Ministry of Environment;   however the   Planning   Commission,   and the Ministries   of   Water,   Agriculture,   and   Industries,   the   National   Disaster Management Authority, and others, along with civil society organizations should also play an active role in finalizing and implementing the climate change agenda. Finally, some general suggestions that need to be incorporated across the board are;

  • A CC policy needs to be devised by taking into consideration the water, food and energy security of the country.  It should be done in a consultative manner in which all the relevant stakeholders are taken on board.
  • Provincial  opinions  should  also  be  taken  while  finalizing  the  CC  policy.
  • Provinces should make adaptation action plans in light of the national policy developed, which should be consistent with the existing ground realities.
  • Technology   no   doubt   is   necessary   but   is   not   sufficient   alone.   The techno centric approach should be complemented by considering the social concerns as well. Doing so would help in building the ownership of the campaign to counter the effects of climate change.
  • The institutional capacity of different tiers of government should be built on adaptation measures side by side with the communities;
  • The capacity building of vulnerable communities should also be done and adaptation measures should be adopted that are consistent with the socio- economic realities of the beneficiaries.