KARACHI: The sprawling megacity lies crumbling, desiccated by another deadly heatwave, its millions of inhabitants suffering life-threatening water shortages and unable to buy bread that has become too expensive to eat.
It sounds like the stuff of dystopian fiction but it could be the reality Pakistan is facing. With its northern glaciers melting and its population surging — the country’s climate change time bomb is already ticking.
In a nation facing violence and an unprecedented energy shortage slowing economic growth, the environment is a subject little discussed.
But the warning signs are there, including catastrophic floods which displaced millions, and a deadly heatwave this summer that killed 1,200 people.
Three of the world’s most spectacular mountain ranges intersect in Pakistan’s north: the Himalayas, the Hindu Khush and the Karakoram, forming the largest reservoir of ice outside the poles.
The mountain glaciers feed into the Indus River and its tributaries to irrigate the rest of the country, winding through the breadbasket of central Punjab and stretching south to finally merge with the Arabian Sea near Karachi.
The future of Pakistan, a Muslim giant whose population the UN predicts will surge past 300 million people by 2050, can be read in part by the melting of glaciers like Passu, at the gateway to China.