Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Future Food Crisis

Pakistan is an agricultural country where the majority of the population depends upon farming for a livelihood. The agricultural sector accounts for 24 percent of our GDP. 27 percent of our land is under cultivation out of which 80 percent is irrigated. However, lack of sustainable development in the agricultural sector will never make us self sufficient in food production to meet the needs of our rapidly increasing population. We often say, it’s all because of poor policy implementation and lack of proper planning. To some extent this is true, however the way our world eco-system is changing and affecting different regions, including South Asia, is another reason that is increasing our problems manifolds. One of the challenges our country will face in the coming two to three decades will be a severe food crisis.

Food production majorly depends upon availability of water and a suitable environment. According to a study by the Water and Power Development Authority, water resources in the country have declined alarmingly as our population continues to increase in past decade. We must recall the severe drought in 1999-2000, which significantly changed the underground water table. UNDP, in one of its findings say that fresh water availability per person in Pakistan has declined to 20 percent of what of what was available 50 years before.

We have one of the best irrigation systems in Pakistan, connecting five rivers with a well-distributed canal system that irrigates our agricultural lands. However, with the passage of time our rivers have started drying up. Pakistan receives about 59 percent of rainwater from the monsoon season. However, changes in the earth’s ecosystem due to global warming are shifting the monsoon season from this region. We can now clearly observe that rain in Pakistan is not on time.

Crop production, according to the metrological department, have increased in recent years, however in the long term, production will go down as water shortage will ultimately affect food production. We have already observed that massive floods during the past two years destroyed crops over millions of acres of land. Water shortage in the long term, together with heavy downpours and massive flooding that may occur in the coming years will continue to destroy our food production capacity.

Further scientific evidence proves that changes in the earth ecosystem will trigger heavy downpours and long term drought simultaneously. This will pose challenges to our food production. According to the earth hydrological cycle, evaporation causes rain which causes water to go back into the sea, and the cycle continues. Due to global environmental pollution, mainly the burning of fossil fuels, the average temperature of the ocean is also increasing. As the temperature increases, the oceans evaporate more moisture into the sky. Science proves that warmer air can hold a lot of more water vapor, and with each additional degree of temperature, the capacity of the atmosphere to hold water vapor increases by 7 percent. During the last 30 years, water vapors over the oceans have already increased by 4 percent. That’s why rainstorms are now getting bigger, more intense and causing floods.

As the global temperature continues to increase, the earth water cycle gets intensified and there become longer intervals in drought stricken areas between downpours. Water evaporates from the soil more rapidly and makes droughts deeper.

Scientists believe that the two massive floods of Pakistan correlate with the impacts of global warming. Similarly, future trends of water shortage and increasing droughts in many regions, including South Asia will further impact our food production leading to an additional price hike.
Recent studies from UNICEF should alarm our government where people in Sindh are suffering from high malnutrition that is beyond the emergency level and in an even worst situation from many areas in Africa. If our government does not take appropriate adaptation measures and treat this crisis as an emergency, we will be on our way to severe food shortage all over Pakistan.

The blog was originally published in The News International.

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