Pakistan’s Environmental Profile

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has historically been rich in ecological diversity and natural resources. Pakistan’s extensive arid and semi-arid regions, frequent exposure to natural hazards, and dependence on monsoon rainfall and glacial melting, however, make it vulnerable to global environmental issues including climate change, thereby threatening the ecological diversity and natural resources of the country.[1] According to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2019, Pakistan stood 8th amongst countries adversely impacted by climate change between 1998 and 2017.[2] In contrast, as of 2017, Pakistan only accounted for 0.25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions,[3] ranking 140th in CO2 per capita emissions.[4]


Pakistan extends over a total area of 796,095 square kilometres, including 770.875 square kilometres of land and 25,220 square kilometres of water.[5] The major topographical regions of Pakistan include (a) the western offshoots of the Himalayas, which cover its northern and northwestern parts and in which the highest peak, K-2, rises to 8,611 metres above sea level; (b) the Balochistan plateau in the southwest of the country; (c) the Indus Plain, stretching across most of the eastern and central part of the country; and (d) the Potohar Plateau and Salt Range, situated between the Indus and Jhelum rivers in northern Punjab.[6]


Pakistan is located in a temperate zone with a diverse terrain that is typically dry and hot along the Indus River’s lowland plains and the coast, and is gradually cooler as it progresses towards the northern uplands. The climate of Pakistan is diverse with all four seasons and a mean annual temperature of 20.960C and a mean annual precipitation of 301.37 mm.[7] The summer season (March–June) is extremely hot and humid, with temperatures reaching up to 49°C and even more across the plain areas. The winter (December–February) is colder and average temperatures lie in the 4–20°C range throughout most of the country.[8]

The temperature in Pakistan varies both seasonally and regionally. While smaller regions in the south of Pakistan have a tropical climate, most regions are dominated by a dry climate. Mean winter temperatures from December to February in the lower plain range between 14–20°C, and 2–23°C in the upper plain areas.[9] During  the  summer months,  the  mean  monthly  temperature  varies from  42–44°C  in  the  lower  plain,  and  23–49°C  in  the  upper  plain  areas.[10]


Pakistan receives summer rainfall in the form of tail-end monsoon winds, which arrive in July and last until September, with hills and mountains being targeted more than plains. In comparison to India, the monsoon season is neither as lengthy nor as rainy. Annual rainfall in Sindh, most of Balochistan and Punjab, and the central region of the northern areas is less than 250 mm/10 inches, while specific areas within these regions average less than 125 mm/10 inches.[11] Ultimately, as rainfall reaches 750 mm/30 inches in the plains and 625 mm/25 inches in the highlands, the truly humid climate emerges.[12]

During the winter, from December to March, Western Depressions flowing from the Mediterranean enter from the west, bearing rain and relatively moisture-robbed cyclones. Thunderstorms provide a minor amount of rainfall between October and November, and April and June.[13] Additionally, during the summer, a temperature inversion layer at a low altitude of around 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) in southern Pakistan prevents moisture-laden air from rising and condensation from occurring.[14]

Over the years, rainfall trends have changed in Pakistan. In 2020, winds arriving from the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea to facilitate Pakistan’s monsoon season reportedly shifted direction, pushing heavier rainfall towards Karachi as opposed to agricultural zones in Punjab.[15] In 2020, Pakistan’s monsoon season was amongst the ten heaviest rainfalls since 1961.[16] The fluctuation and intensity of rainfall indicates climate change and adversely affects the agricultural sector as floods harm crop yield and increase the likelihood of droughts.[17]

Pakistan’s Environmental Issues 

Pakistan has been experiencing natural resource deterioration and pollution as a side effect of its economic growth trajectory. Air pollution, water toxicity, and other macro environmental implications including water logging, land degradation, and desertification are all on the rise. All of this, along with an increasing population, has contributed to increasing poverty and decreased standard of living in Pakistan.

Air pollution 

Pakistan’s air quality is classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization (WHO). The concentration of pollutant PM₂.₅ (µg/m³) in the air was 74.27 μg/m³ in 2018 and 65.81 μg/m³ in 2019, significantly exceeding the recommended value of 5 μg/m³.[18] Although the unit lowered significantly from 2018 to 2019, Pakistan remains the world’s second most polluted country in the world.[19]

If particulate pollution was lowered to the WHO standard, residents of southern Punjab and northern Sindh would gain over 5 years of life expectancy while residents of Karachi would gain 3.6 years.[20] According to IQAir, an air quality index (AQI) of under 50 is classified as safe and Lahore is the world’s most polluted city in the world with an AQI of 372 while Karachi places fifth with an AQI of 173.[21]

According to the World Bank, outdoor air pollution causes roughly 22,000 premature adult deaths and loss of 163,432 DALYs (Disability-adjusted Life Years) annually, whereas indoor air pollution causes 40 million instances of acute respiratory infections and 28,000 fatalities yearly in Pakistan.[22] Additionally, air pollution is responsible for one out of every ten fatalities of Pakistani children under the age of five.[23] As per Global Alliance on Health and Pollution in 2019, nearly 128,000 Pakistanis die prematurely from illnesses caused by air pollution each year.[24]

Sources of air pollution in Pakistan include thermoelectric power plants and industrial units, burning of agricultural and municipal waste, and natural dust clouds caused by dry weather.[25] The transportation and energy industries are two large contributors to air pollution in Pakistan accounting for over two-thirds of particulate matter emissions with 85 percent of PM2.5 emissions.[26] Vehicles in Pakistan also continue using extremely polluting sulphur-laden gas, aggravating the problem of air pollution[27] since high sulphur content in petroleum (0.5–1%) and furnace oils (1–3.5%) causes excessive SO2 emissions in the atmosphere. This prevents the installation of Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs) — devices used by countries to regulate diesel car emissions — to maintain the sulphur level in the 0.05–0.5 percent range.[28]

Water Scarcity 

Water scarcity in Pakistan is an increasingly alarming issue. By 2025, the country is predicted to have severe water scarcity, and within two decades, Pakistan is predicted to be the most water scarce country in South Asia.[29] Nearly 30 million Pakistanis already do not have access to safe drinking water.[30] This is in part because 97 percent of freshwater is used for agriculture which accounts for 18 percent of the country’s GDP.[31]

Pakistan’s Water Security Diagnostic Assessment identifies five main issues that are adversely affecting water resource management including: (i) poor water data and analysis; (ii) weak mechanisms for water resource management and allocation; (iii) environmentally unsustainable levels of water withdrawal; (iv) widespread pollution; and (v) low agricultural water productivity due to overuse of fertilisers and poor irrigation and drainage practises which increase water pollution and soil salinity.[32]

The economic consequences of inadequate water and sanitation, floods, and droughts in Pakistan are conservatively estimated to be 4 percent of GDP or roughly 12 billion USD annually. The expenses of inadequate water supply and sanitation account for the majority of these expenditures. Furthermore, the economic implications of the Indus Delta’s degradation are projected to be approximately 2 billion USD each year.[33]

It has been suggested that water scarcity in Pakistan can be alleviated through efficient data collection, reduced losses, enhanced planting, and well-coordinated government programmes and initiatives like the Punjab drip irrigation system.[34]

Water Pollution 

Water quality in Pakistan has been gradually degrading due to a combination of factors including sewage and industrial effluent discharges, urban and agricultural runoff as well as saline water intrusion.[35] Pollution caused by organic matter, pathogenic agents and hazardous and toxic wastes is serious and pollution loads discharged into inland water bodies are estimated to double by 2025.[36]

Industrial pollution and agricultural overspill pose major threats to inland rivers, marine and coastal ecosystems, and the Indus Delta.[37] In Karachi, roughly 500 million gallons of wastewater produced each day is released into coastal waters alongside large portions out of the daily 12,000 tonnes of municipal solid trash. Moreover, approximately 87 percent of hazardous industrial waste is dumped without treatment into the Arabian Sea.[38]

Arsenic contamination is also a rising concern in Pakistan. As per a 2017 study, the Indus River Valley has extraordinarily high concentrations (above 200 g/L) of arsenic and nearly two-thirds of the wells in Pakistan surpass the WHO-recommended threshold of 10 g/L. This places 50 to 60 million people at risk[39] as prolonged arsenic exposure can lead to cancer, higher mortality from heart disease, infectious diseases, and inhibit cognitive function, particularly in children.[40]

Land degradation 

Land degradation is a challenge that is particularly severe in Pakistan, where over three-fourths of land is affected or soon to be affected. Due to unsustainable land management practices and rising natural resource demands, the drylands are hit hard resulting in grave environmental problems such as degradation of dryland ecosystems, loss of soil fertility and biodiversity, flash floods, decline in land productivity and soil erosion.[41]

Land degradation has four major causes: water erosion, wind erosion, salinity (presence of high concentrations of salts in the soil)/sodicity (presence of a high proportion of sodium ions relative to other cations in the soil) and water logging. Roughly over 16 million hectares of land is damaged by soil erosion, out of which 11.2 million hectares is impacted by water erosion especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Sindh and Northern Areas.[42] In arid regions, wind erosion affects about 3-5 million hectares of land, with 0.5 to 4 metre high moving sand dunes in certain parts, posing a significant threat to cultivated land and local infrastructure. Salinity and sodicity have affected roughly 5 million hectares whereas waterlogging has affected 2 million hectares.[43]

As a predominantly dryland country, two-thirds of the country’s fast growing population relies on drylands for their living, primarily through agro-pastoral activities.[44] Issues like desertification diminish the biological potential of land, resulting in desert-like conditions and loss of all productivity and resources.[45] According to the World Bank (2006), Pakistan’s annual economic losses from lost productivity due to soil erosion are projected to be roughly Rs 15 billion, or 0.25 percent of GDP.[46]


According to the Forest Department, forests, shrubs, and trees on farmlands span roughly 5 million hectares, or 5.2 percent of the nation’s land, compared to the IUCN’s suggested 20 to 25 percent.[47] Due to a prohibition on forest harvesting, the forestry sector contributes less than 1 percent  to the country’s economy.[48] Pakistan has wide-ranging forests, from coniferous, riverine and scrub forests to tropical thorn, subtropical dry forests, and mangroves.[49]

The two main forest products are timber and firewood. According to a study on the country’s Household Energy Strategy, fuel wood consumption is high, with about 79 percent of all households using it and the rest being used in the commercial sector by bakeries, restaurants, brick kilns, and ceramic product manufacturing.[50]

As per the Natural Forest Resource Assessment Study in 2004, Pakistan’s forest resources (coniferous, riverine, and mangrove forests) are dwindling. Between 1990 and 2005, the yearly rate of deforestation was predicted to be 2.1 percent, or 47 thousand hectares.[51] It is projected that the most valuable coniferous forest is losing 40 thousand hectares annually with Gilgit Baltistan (34 thousand hectares a year) and KP (8 thousand hectares a year) having the highest annual rates of deforestation.[52] Riverine and mangrove forests are also declining at alarming rates of 2.3 and 4.9 thousand hectares a year, respectively.[53] According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Pakistan’s deforestation rate is the second highest in Asia.[54]

As per World Bank (2006) estimates, the cost of deforestation in Pakistan ranges from 206 to 334 million rupees per year.[55] A 2018 World Bank report suggests that long-term forest investments are needed to fully realise the potential for forest contributions to resilient ecosystems, rural livelihoods, the national economy, and the global environment.[56]


[1] Jo-Ellen Parry, Review of current and planned adaptation action in Pakistan, CARIAA Working Paper no. 15 (2016),. International Development Research Centre,

[2] David Eckstein, Marie-Lena Hutfils, and Malik Winges, ‘Global Climate Risk Index 2019: Who Suffers Most From Extreme Weather Events? Weather-related Loss Events in 2017 and 1998 to 2017’ (2019) Germanwatch <>  accessed 15 March 2022. 

[3] Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, ‘CO₂ and other Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ [online] Oxford: OurWorldInData. <> accessed 15 March 2022. 

[4] ‘Pakistan at 100: Environmental Sustainability’ [2019] World Bank Group <> accessed 15 March 2022. 

[5] Zeba Sathar & Kiran Khan (eds), 2019, Climate, Population, and Vulnerability in Pakistan: Exploring Evidence of Linkages for Adaptation, Population Council,

[6] Ibid

[7] World Bank, ‘Climate Change Knowledge Portal’ [online] <> accessed 10 March 2022.

[8] Ali, Shaukat, Hyung-Il Eum, Jaepil Cho, Li Dan, Firdos Khan, K. Dairaku, Madan Lall Shrestha, et  al. 2019. ‘Assessment of Climate Extremes in Future Projections Downscaled by Multiple Statistical Downscaling Methods over Pakistan’. Atmospheric Research222 (July): 114–33.

[9] ADB. 2020. ‘Pakistan Basic Statistics 2020’. Text. Asian Development Bank (ADB). Pakistan.

[10] Ibid 

[11] PBS Compendium.

[12] PBS Compendium.

[13] PBS Compendium.

[14] PBS Compendium.

[15] Rina Saeed Khan, ‘“Freak events”: Karachi Floods Hint at Shifting Monsoon’ Reuters (22 September 2020) <>

[16] Effects of Climate Change on Monsoon Season of Pakistan, (, 4 August 2021) <,favor%20droughts%20in%20the%20region.> accessed 15 March 2022.

[17] Ibid.

[18] WHO, WHO global air quality guidelines: particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, 22 September 2022, ISBN: 9789240034228

[19] IQAir, Air Quality in Pakistan [online]

[20] AQLI, Country Spotlight: Pakistan [online]

[21] Web Desk, ‘Lahore is world’s most polluted city today’ The News (24 November 2021) <> accessed 15 March 2022.

[22] WHO, Pakistan <,and%2028%20000%20deaths%2Fyear.> accessed 15 March 2022.

[23] S Khan, ‘Why Pakistan has some of the most polluted cities in the world’ DW (1 November 2021) <> accessed 15 March 2022.

[24] IHME Global Health Data Exchange Tool. <http://ghdx.> accessed 10 March 2022.

[25] World Bank Group, ‘Opportunities for a Clean and Green Pakistan: A Country Environmental Analysis’ (2019) <> accessed 15 March 2022.


[27] S Khan, ‘Why Pakistan has some of the most polluted cities in the world’ DW (1 November 2021) <> accessed 15 March 2022.

[28] World Bank Group, ‘Opportunities for a Clean and Green Pakistan: A Country Environmental Analysis’ (2019) <> accessed 15 March 2022.

[29]  Huma Yusuf, ‘The Biggest Problem’ Dawn (30 November 2020) <> accessed 15 March 2022.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] William J. Young, Arif Anwar, and others, ‘Pakistan : Getting More from Water.’ (2019) World Bank. <> accessed 10 March 2022.

[33] Ibid

[34] Huma Yusuf, ‘The Biggest Problem’ Dawn (30 November 2020) <> accessed 15 March 2022.

[35] Ministry of Climate Change & UNEP, The Environment and Climate Change Outlook of Pakistan, 2015, Chapter 4,

[36] Ibid 

[37] World Bank Group, ‘Opportunities for a Clean and Green Pakistan: A Country Environmental Analysis’ (2019) <> accessed 15 March 2022.

[38] Ibid

[39] Joel Podgorski, Syed Ali Musstjab Akber Shah Eqani, Tasawar Khanam, and others, ‘Extensive Arsenic Contamination in High-pH Unconfined Aquifers in the Indus Valley’ (2017) Science Advances <> accessed 15 March 2022.

[40] Sara Flanagan, Richard Johnston, and Yan Zheng, ‘Arsenic in Tube Well Water in Bangladesh: Health and Economic Impacts and Implications for Arsenic Mitigation’ (2012) Bulletin of the World Health Organization 90: 839–846.

[41] Ministry of Climate Change & UNEP, The Environment and Climate Change Outlook of Pakistan, 2015, Chapter 3

[42] Nasir Khan, Satoshi Uchida, Muhammad Shafiq, ‘Monitoring Soil Erosion in a Mountainous Watershed Under High Rainfall Zone in Pakistan’ (2006) Journal of Rural Environment Engineering 43: 23- 30.

[43] Ministry of Climate Change & UNEP, The Environment and Climate Change Outlook of Pakistan, 2015, Chapter 3,




[47]Ministry of Climate Change & UNEP, The Environment and Climate Change Outlook of Pakistan, 2015, Chapter 3,







[54] Jamal Shahid, ‘Pakistan’s deforestation rate second highest in Asia: WWF’ Dawn (15 August 2020) <,the%20recommended%20cover%20of%2025pc.> accessed 15 March 2022.

[55] Ministry of Climate Change & UNEP, The Environment and Climate Change Outlook of Pakistan, 2015, Chapter 3,

[56] World Bank Group, ‘Opportunities for a Clean and Green Pakistan: A Country Environmental Analysis’ (2019) <> accessed 15 March 2022.afda