Home Climate Crisis Snowless winter depriving northern Pakistan of economic lifeline

Snowless winter depriving northern Pakistan of economic lifeline

Snowless winter depriving northern Pakistan of economic lifeline
Kalam - File Photo

Most parts of northern and northwestern Pakistan are still waiting for first snowfall of the season

Pakistan has received lower than average snowfall over the past 3 years, Sardar Sarfraz -Pakistan Meteorological Department
Rainfall in the country has been 92% and 80% less in December and January compared to the previous period
Aamir Latif 

Hotels and streets are usually packed with tourists who throng to the picturesque Kalam Valley from across Pakistan to enjoy the snowfall at this time of winter.

Usually surrounded by snow-capped mountains in winters, the popular tourist destination, located some 326 kilometers (202 miles) from the capital city of Islamabad, is currently sporting a brown and barren look, as the country’s northern and northwestern parts are yet to receive the first snowfall of this season.

Northwestern Pakistan normally received moderate to heavy snowfall between the middle of December and end of January, which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from every corner of the South Asian country.

Kalam – File Photo

The Kalam and Malam Jabba valleys of scenic Swat, often referred to as the “Switzerland of Pakistan,” are the most popular tourist destinations, apart from the Kaghan and Naran valleys in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Murree, a hill station in the northeastern Punjab province.

“There is a 60% to 70% decline in the number of tourists this winter, and the reason is obvious: no snowfall,” Mohammad Riaz, a local hotel owner, told Anadolu.

“Last year, it was a packed season. We had to arrange extra rooms to cope with the number of tourists. But today, 70% of our rooms are vacant despite a concession in rates.”

Also read: As winter sets in, deadly smog chokes Pakistan

The situation in adjoining Malam Jabba, home to the country’s biggest ski resort and the core of winter sports festivals, is no different.

Most of the hotels lay vacant, while shopkeepers and transporters kill their time with idle chitchat.

“We are praying for snowfall. That would mean a lot to us. Snowfall is a lifeline for our economy,” Mohammad Adil, who runs a hotel in the main Malam Jabba bazaar, told Anadolu.

‘Snow runs our entire economy’

The northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, which borders neighboring China, however has a longer snowfall season, stretching from November to March.

A few parts of the region, located at the confluence of the world’s greatest mountain ranges – the Karakoram, the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and the Pamir Mountains – and home to five of the 14 peaks above 8,000 meters (26,246 feet), received light snowfall in November last year, but the peak season is still snowless.

Iqbal Hussain, director of Gilgit-Baltistan’s Tourism Department, foresees a “deep” impact from the snowless winter on the region’s economy, which “directly and indirectly” banks on snowfall.

“Snow runs our entire economy, in terms of tourism, fishing, agriculture and hydroelectricity. No or less snowfall means less water, and subsequently, less fishing and less farming, aside from power shortages,” Hussain told.

Also read: In Pakistan, one of the world’s oldest juniper forest faces lurking threats

No or less snowfall would mean early spring water will be a big problem for local farmers and those associated with the fishing sector, aside from causing a further decrease in underground water levels, he explained.

He said although the region does not primarily attract the regular snow-loving tourists, it has traditional winter activities which are likely to be affected by the lack of snow this year.

The situation has forced his department to shift the venue for this year’s “winter feast,” a traditional winter recreational festival, from Hunza valley to Ghizer district.

Kalam – File Photo

According to Fazl-e-Khaliq, a Swat-based journalist who focuses on environment issues, the valley has seen a gradual increase in temperatures over the past few decades, causing significant damage to local agriculture and infrastructure.

Speaking to Anadolu, he said the rising temperatures regularly lead to small and big glacier outbursts across the valley, washing away farmlands and infrastructure, aside from reducing underground water levels.

“Until a decade ago, even the lower parts of Swat, including the capital Mingora, used to receive snowfall. But nowadays, you can’t even think about that,” he said.

Climate change is here

Disappointment was writ large on Mahmood Hussain’s face as he had travelled all the way from the southern port city of Karachi to Kalam, hoping for snowfall.

“There’s nothing here except for dry cold,” Hussain told.

“Lakes, springs and greenery are what you enjoy in the summers. But in the winters, it’s only snowfall that brings you here,” he added.

Pakistan is among the top 10 countries vulnerable to the challenges related to climate change and global warming, although its share in the release of planet-warming gases is less than 1%.

Environmentalists reckon that climate change has gradually turned the region’s weather patterns “erratic” and “extreme” in recent years, which has resulted in unpredictable rains, snowfall and long drought spells.

Also read: Climate Change Disasters: Experts call for mitigation measures

“Although we cannot associate one particular phenomenon as a whole result of climate change, it’s true that weather patterns have become erratic and unpredictable because of that over the years,” Sardar Sarfraz, a director at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, told.

Northern and northwestern areas of Pakistan, including Pakistan-administered Kashmir, have been receiving lower than average snowfall over the past three years.

“Pakistan has so far received 92% and 80% less rains in December and January compared to this period last year,” Sarfraz said.

The lack of rains and snowfall is because the “westerly waves” system that brings these to the region has not properly developed so far, he explained.

However, he said Pakistan’s northern and northwestern regions are likely to receive “good rains” by the end of this month, though they would still be less compared to last January.


Aamir Latif is a senior journalist based in Karachi. He represents Anadolu, a Turkish news agency.
Courtesy: Anadolu Agency (Posted on 23.01.2024) 




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here