The Knowledge to Act


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

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Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy (NCCP), released in February 2013, expressed its commitment to achieving climate-resilient development and adapting to the climate risks the country faces at the present and in the coming decades due to climate change.

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 be an additional stressor as changing patterns of monsoon rains, winter precipitation, and snow and ice melt alter the spatial and temporal distribution of water. Despite increasing awareness of these risks, a comprehensive evaluation of how water resources were or could be affected by changing climatic conditions had not yet been completed. The absence of such an analysis could have impeded the implementation of Pakistan’s NCCP 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” aimed 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. Specifically, its objectives were to: 

  • Develop a fuller picture of current knowledge regarding the exposure of Pakistan’s water resources to the impacts of climate change and the potential socio-economic ramifications of these impacts.
  • Identify priority research gaps and barriers to addressing these gaps.
  • Present options to enhance understanding of and capacity to respond to the vulnerability of Pakistan’s water resources to climate change through revised or new policies, research programs and other initiatives.
  • Increase comprehension by the people of Pakistan regarding how climate change could alter the future availability of water resources.

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.

A main observation of the project was that 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.

Other key findings which emerged through the research included a lack of existing knowledge regarding the complex hydrological regime of the Indus Basin, a projected increase in water demand alongside population growth requiring stronger water management practices, potential challenges related to agricultural and energy production, and limited climate change research capacity and access to data. Priorities for action to address these gaps 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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