Zimbabwe facing drought, Pakistan declares water shortages

  • Post last modified:April 3, 2024
  • Reading time:4 mins read

Zimbabwe and Pakistan are both facing severe water shortages. On the surface, it appears both countries’ looming disasters are for different reasons. However, they are actually both attributable to the climate crisis.

Zimbabwe: a national disaster due to drought – and greenhouse gases

First, Zimbabwe declared drought a national disaster on Wednesday 3 April, with president Emmerson Mnangagwa saying the country needed $2bn in aid to help millions of people who are going hungry.

A severe dry spell induced by the El Nino weather pattern is wreaking havoc across southern Africa. Mnangagwa told a press conference that:

“No Zimbabwean must succumb or die from hunger. To that end, I do hereby declare a nationwide State of Disaster, due to the El Nino-induced drought.

Due to poor rains, more than 2.7 million people will not have enough food to put on the table this year. This season’s grain harvest was expected to bring in just over half of the cereals needed to feed the nation.

The naturally occurring El Nino climate pattern, which emerged in mid-2023, usually increases global temperatures for one year afterwards. It is currently fuelling fires and record heat across the world.

In southern Africa, Zimbabwe is the third country to declare drought a national disaster after Malawi and Zambia. The measure allows for more resources to address the crisis. The drought has also affected electricity production, as Zimbabwe is highly reliant on hydroelectric power.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the latest El Nino is one of the five strongest ever recorded, adding its impact will continue by fuelling heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. El Nino reached a peak in December but should still result in above-normal temperatures until May over almost all land areas, the WMO said.

Major food growing areas in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe received only 80% of average rainfall during the mid-November-to-February southern hemisphere summer, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said. It warned of an increased risk of food insecurity.

Pakistan: severe water shortages – due to the climate crisis

Then, Pakistan is facing a 30% water shortage at the start of the sowing season for cash crops such as rice and cotton. The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) said the gap is based on lower-than-normal winter snowfall in Pakistan’s northern glacier region, affecting catchment areas of the Indus and Jhelum Rivers that are used for irrigation.

Kharif crops, or monsoon crops, including rice, maize, sugarcane, and cotton are sown in April and require a wet and warm climate with high levels of rainfall.

Muhammad Azam Khan, assistant researcher with IRSA which regulates the distribution of water resources along the Indus river, said:

There was less snow than normal as a result of climate change affecting the country’s glaciers. This will have a direct impact on the availability of water for kharif crops in the summer.

The water shortage gap is expected to narrow as the monsoon rains arrive later in the season.

However, the country’s meteorological department has also forecast higher than normal temperatures during monsoon season, increasing uncertainty.

Agriculture is the largest sector of Pakistan’s economy, contributing about 24% of its GDP. But it has been criticised for being water inefficient. Khan said:

What this current water shortfall means for the crops is that authorities will have to better plan on how to utilise the water that is allotted to them.

Pakistan, the world’s fifth largest country with a population of more than 250 million, has recently been grappling with the profound impacts of climate change which includes shifting and unpredictable weather patterns.

Devastating floods in 2022 – which scientists linked to climate change – that affected more than 30 million people also severely impacted Pakistan’s cotton crop that year.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Africa News – YouTube

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