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Pakistan is currently experiencing one of the hottest summers on record.
The temperatures have already reached 50 degrees Centigrade in many parts of the country and experts believe the situation is only going to get worse from here on out. While heatwaves in Pakistan are not an unusual phenomenon, the recent spell of blistering heat combined with high levels of humidity is testing the limits of human endurance.
For those residing in arid areas, there is simply no reprieve from the sweltering temperatures and extreme weather conditions. The intense heatwaves in Pakistan have put the lives of millions at risk while causing irreparable damage to many of their livelihoods. The agricultural sector has also taken a major hit, with summer crops such as wheat and pulses wilting under the blazing sun. The mango production has also reduced significantly this year, whereas a number of farm animals have also died from heat exhaustion and water shortage in the past weeks.
What is even more worrisome is that the planet is only going to get warmer in the coming decades, which means the temperatures in Pakistan will also hit new highs and bring forth a slew of new socio-economic problems. In 2022 alone, the mercury is expected to rise by six to eight degrees Celsius above average, resulting in heatwaves and imminent drought.
In this blog, we are going to discuss everything you should know about heatwaves in Pakistan – including what they actually are, what causes them, the damage they may cause, and their link to climate change.
So, without further ado, let’s begin.
What is a Heatwave?
The term “heatwave” may have always been around, but it became prevalent in 2015 after more than 2,000 people lost their lives to dehydration and heat strokes in Pakistan. It was a particularly deadly summer where the high levels of humidity resulted in a high wet-bulb temperature, which can be extremely hazardous to health and result in kidney failures among other acute diseases.
But what is a heatwave?
A heatwave is defined as a period of remarkably hot weather that typically lasts two or more days. During this time, the temperatures are at least a couple of degrees higher than the historical averages for the given area. This phenomenon generally takes place due to trapped air. Instead of cycling around the country, the air stays put above a particular region for a long time and makes it feel like the inside of an oven.
This situation is usually made worse by high-pressure systems that commonly develop during the summer months. These slow-moving systems can force the air downward for prolonged periods, consequentially preventing the warm ground air from rising and dissipating. Thus, the air near the ground gets hotter. Moreover, if there is no rising air, there is also no rain. Hence, the temperatures continue to rise until the high-pressure system eases up and provides some respite to the dwellers of the area.
What is the Wet-Bulb Temperature?
In case you are wondering about the wet-bulb temperature mentioned above, please note that it relates to heat and humidity. Simply put, it is a measure of the amount of water vapours the atmosphere can hold at the current temperature.
According to experts, a wet-bulb temperature of 31 degrees Centigrade is extremely harmful to humans, while a temperature of 35 degrees Centigrade is unbearable after six hours.
2022 Heatwave in Pakistan: Which Cities Are the Hottest?
Although most parts of Pakistan have been smothered by heatwaves, there are a few cities that have it worse than the rest.
Here are the hottest cities in Pakistan along with the highest temperature they have hit this year so far.
Jacobabad, Sindh: 51 degrees Centigrade
Nawabshah, Sindh: 50.5 degrees Centigrade
Moen jo Daro, Sindh: 50 degrees Centigrade
Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: 49 degrees Centigrade
Meanwhile, the mercury in Islamabad and Karachi reached 42 degrees Centigrade in mid-May, while the residents of Lahore had to suffer through the temperatures of 46 degrees Centigrade.
Damages Caused by Heatwaves in Pakistan
Heatwaves can have a substantial effect on the overall society. Even though it is among the most fatal natural hazards, it only receives attention after people and animals begin to die from heat strokes. Unfortunately, many of the damages caused by heatwaves in Pakistan (and elsewhere for that matter) are not immediately noticeable.
Let’s look at some of the most notable threats posed by the swiftly rising temperatures.
As the scorching heat continues to batter different parts of Pakistan, numerous hospitals have reported a significant increase in the cases of acute kidney injury due to dehydration, acute water diarrhoea, and gastroenteritis. These cases are far more prevalent in Sindh and Punjab, the two provinces that have been hit the hardest by the climate crisis.
While District Health Officers (DHOs) in Sindh have been instructed to establish heat stroke camps to assist people experiencing symptoms of heatstroke or suffering from gastrointestinal diseases after drinking contaminated water, the number of patients has only increased in the last week.
According to Director-General Health Sindh Dr Jumman Bahoto, there are confirmed reports of sickness and death due to heatstroke and waterborne diseases in various towns and cities.
“A rise in the cases of acute watery diarrhoea and other waterborne illnesses are being reported from Dadu’s remote areas while some cases of heatstroke have also been reported as temperature shot up to 51 degrees in some areas of the province,” Dr Bahoto told a local media outlet. “We have issued directives to the health authorities to establish heatstroke camps, provide clean drinking water and ORS to patients and provide timely medical treatment to them.”
The situation in Punjab is also getting worse by the day.
“Dozens of people, especially traffic wardens in Lahore, fainted due to dehydration over long exposure to sunlight in the intense heat and they were shifted to different hospitals,” said Vice-Chancellor of University of Health Sciences (UHS) Lahore Prof. Javed Akram, as reported by a national news organisation.
Some of the most common health hazards caused by intense heat waves are as follows:
- Muscle cramps
- Heavy sweating
People with chronic health conditions must take extra precautions during this weather.
For more information, you can also check out our comprehensive guide on how to prevent heatstroke during the 2022 heatwave in Pakistan.
Heatwaves do not cause power outages on their own. Instead, the increased demand for electricity and higher strain on the power grids can sometimes overburden the transmission lines. One of the main reasons behind this surge is the use of air conditioning.
Once the weather gets unbearably hot, people have no other option but to turn on their air conditioners and room coolers for a momentary reprieve. However, since artificial cooling requires more power, it generally results in blackouts and load-shedding that can last for hours.
Recently, many parts of the country experienced power outages for up to 12 hours, forcing people to survive the extremely hot temperature without the aid of fans or AC. Furthermore, electricity shortage also leads to water scarcity, which in turn leads many people to quench their thirst by consuming unhygienic water.
It is also worth noting that this growing demand for power could actually be worsening the climate change crisis. Unfortunately, about 60 percent of the electricity in Pakistan is created by burning fossil fuels, which emit planet-warming gases causing the greenhouse effect. Since the ongoing 2022 heatwaves in Pakistan have increased the demand for coal and oil imports, the problem is likely to worsen in the coming year.
Reduced Agricultural Yield
Unfortunately, high temperatures can also negatively impact crop growth, which can be rather critical for largely agricultural countries like Pakistan. Frequent heatwaves can disrupt soil moisture levels, quicken the evaporation process, hasten photosynthesis, and affect respiration – all of which can be detrimental to plant development.
In addition, extreme weather conditions can cause long-term environmental degradation by removing all the moisture from the soil and leaving the crops to wilt. The lack of water also plays a huge role in this regard. Since the demand for water is at its highest during the hot summer months, many farmers are not able to adequately water their fields during the growing season.
Although the summer has barely begun, the 2022 heatwaves in Pakistan have already affected the domestic production of major crops. For example, the country is expected to experience at least a 10 percent reduction in annual wheat yield and a 30 percent reduction in mangoes.
“March 2022 was the warmest and driest month in the history of Pakistan. Due to extraordinarily high temperatures this month, the wheat crop was badly affected and we may face at least a 10 percent reduction in wheat crop production this year,” the former Director-General of Pakistan Meteorological Department, Dr Ghulam Rasool, told The News.
“Due to extraordinarily high temperatures in the month of March, the grains of wheat could not complete their biological cycle and they shrank in size. The starch content in the wheat also reduces and this may result in at least 10 percent reduction in the wheat crop in the country,” he added.
Major Causes of Heatwaves in Pakistan
Heatwaves occur naturally in the summer months. However, there is no denying that climate change is aggravating these events. This phenomenon is occurring so rapidly around the world because emissions of hazardous gases from factories, vehicles, and other sources are causing the average temperatures to increase.
Let’s take a quick look into the major causes of heat waves in Pakistan.
Deforestation, carbon emissions, and pollution are the biggest reasons behind the relentless heatwaves in Pakistan. As much as we need a healthy atmosphere to survive, our actions have proved to be dangerous for our ecosystems. The biggest environmental problems in the country include the loss of forest areas or deforestation, air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels for the production of electricity as well as harmful emissions from vehicles, water pollution caused by chemical waste, and of course, land pollution.
Over the past years, the federal and local governments have initiated many plantation drives in Pakistan to tackle the issue of deforestation. Moreover, many organisations have introduced plans to make the country greener and cleaner.
Unplanned Urban Sprawl
As the demand for housing increases, so does environmental pollution. While many builders and developers have started adopting sustainable and environmentally friendly construction measures, it is important to note that unplanned urban sprawl has negatively impacted agricultural land, which in turn has contributed to environmental problems.
The best way to combat this issue is by incorporating sustainability in construction by using naturally sourced materials, such as bamboo, cork, terrazzo, and more.
Urban Heat Islands
Have you ever heard of the urban heat island effect?
If the neighbourhood you live in feels hotter than another part of the town, the chances are it is more congested and has fewer trees. This is called the “urban heat island effect”, where the dark-coloured surfaces such as the asphalt and rooftops absorb the heat and slowly release it back into the air, thus creating little islands of heat.
The urban heat island effect mostly affects low-income and densely populated communities with a scarcity of green spaces and gardens. These areas experience increased temperatures throughout the day and sometimes even the night. Nevertheless, the best way to combat this problem is to plant as many trees as possible. Homeowners can also consider painting their rooftops green to cool down their homes.
This brings us to the end of our in-depth guide on heatwaves in Pakistan. Don’t forget to check out our blogs on how to get rid of the trapped heat in your home and how to keep your water tank cool during the summer season.
Moreover, we’ll be updating this blog with more information, so make sure to check back frequently.
In the meantime, for more posts regarding summer in Pakistan as well as tips on how to effectively beat the heat, please stay connected to Zameen Blog. You can also share your thoughts and ideas with us by dropping an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Last but not least, make sure to visit our Facebook page to find out all about the latest real estate trends in your city.