It’s the fourth day of Ramadan in the month of May. It’s 10.30 in the morning and the temperature in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, is soaring at 27 °C. People are fasting and there’s little traffic on the roads. Twenty-seven degrees Celsius for a city in the southern hemisphere shouldn’t be unusual, except that we’re talking about Quetta. Known by older generations as ‘Little London’ Quetta is famed for its greenery, abundant valley freshwater and fancy whitewashed British colonial-era architecture. Its late 1800s-built train station wouldn’t look out of place in an English town.
Today, Quetta and its environs are far from this possibly idyllic past. Quetta’s population has soared to nearly 3 million, average temperatures are on an upward climb; crops are being harvested at weird and unpredictable times. A pattern of stop-start rainfall is creating famine-like conditions in one year, and flood-like conditions the next.
A decade ago, temperatures averaged 28°C. That figure has jumped to 32°C and is rising still to potentially unimaginable highs. If we just take the month of May, most of Balochistan’s drier districts have received 4 or 5mm of rainfall every year since 2009. But last year, the entire month saw slightly more than 1mm in the province’s west. Compare that with March, which saw a deluge of 100mm, instead of the 20 or 25mm that is normal for that time of year, and this picture of unpredictability starts to become clearer.