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Geography, climate and population
Pakistan, with a total area of 796 100 km2, is located in Southern Asia (Table 1). It is bordered by India in the east, China in the northeast, Afghanistan in the north and northwest, the Islamic Republic of Iran in the southwest and the Arabian Sea to the south. Pakistan is divided into four provinces, namely the Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
The geography of Pakistan is a profound blend of landscapes varying from plains to deserts, forests, hills and plateaus and ranging from coastal areas of the Arabian Sea in the south to the mountains of the Karakoram range in the north. Pakistan geologically overlaps both with the Indian and the Eurasian tectonic plates, where its Sindh and Punjab provinces lie on the northwestern corner of the Indian plate, while Balochistan and most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lie within the Eurasian plate, which mainly comprises the Iranian plateau, some parts of the Near East and Central Asia. Pakistan is divided into four broad geographic areas:
- The Northern Highlands include parts of Hindu Kush, Karakoram and the Himalaya’s ranges. Mount Godwin Austen, at 8 611 m in the Himalaya’s range, is the second highest peak in the world. The Tirichmir, 7 690 m, is the highest peak in the Hindu Kush range. More than one-half of the summits are over 4 500 m, and more than 50 peaks are over 6 500 m.
- The Pothwar Plateau is bounded on the west by the Indus river, on the north by the Kala Chitta range and the Margalla hills, on the east by the Jhelum river and on the south by the Salt range. The terrain is undulating. The Kala Chitta range rises to an average height of 450-900 m and extends for about 72 km.
- The Indus plain is the valley of the River Indus, a large geographical subdivision of Pakistan. It is bordered on the west by the Iranian plateau (the Sulaiman mountains and the Kirthar range), on the north by the Salt range, and on the east by the Thar desert. The length of the valley along the course of the Indus is about 1 000 km, in Punjab it is about 350 km wide and in lower Sindh it is 200 km. It is subdivided into the trans-Indus plain, the right bank of the Indus, the Thal desert in between the water beds of the Indus and the Jhelum, the Punjab plain, and the Sindh lowlands.
- The Balochistan plateau in the southwest has an average altitude of 600 m and is located at the eastern edge of the Iranian plateau. Dry hills run across the plateau from northeast to southwest. A large part of the northwest is desert. It is geographically the largest of the four provinces having area of 347 190 km2 comprising 48 percent of the area of Pakistan. The southern region is Makran and the central is Kalat. The Sulaiman mountains dominate the northeast corner with the Bolan pass, which is a natural route into Afghanistan going towards Kandahar. Much of the province south of the Quetta region is sparse desert terrain with pockets of inhabitable towns, mostly near rivers and streams.
The land is mostly used for agriculture and rangelands. In 2009, the total cultivated area was an estimated 21.3 million ha, of which 20.4 million ha (96 percent) for annual crops and 0.9 million ha (4 percent) for permanent crops.
Pakistan lies in the subtropical arid zone and most of the country is subjected to a semi-arid climate. Based on physiographic factors and causes of diversity in climate, the country has been classified into four major climatic regions: i) the marine tropical coastland; ii) the subtropical continental lowlands; iii) the subtropical continental highlands; and iv) the subtropical continental plateau (ADB, 2003).
Water is a critical and limiting resource for the country’s sustained economic development. Linked to water, and based on physiography, in 1980 Pakistan was divided into ten agro-ecological zones, these are: i) Indus delta; ii) southern irrigated plain; iii) sandy desert; iv) northern irrigated plains; v) Barani (rainfed) areas; vi) wet mountains; viii) western dry mountains; ix) dry western plateau; and x) Sulaiman Piedmont (Ahmad, 2004a).
June is the hottest month on the plains and July in the mountainous areas, with temperatures over 38 °C, while the mean monthly minimum is only 4 °C in December/January. The average annual precipitation is around 494 mm, but is unevenly distributed. It varies from less than 100 mm in parts of Balochistan and Sindh provinces to more than 1 500 mm in the foothills and northern mountains of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The mean Rabi season rainfall (October to March) varies from less than 50 mm in parts of Sindh province to more than 500 mm in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The mean Kharif season rainfall (April to September) varies from less than 50 mm in parts of Balochistan to more than 800 mm in the northern Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
About 60 percent of the rainfall in the monsoonal climate is received from July to September. The extreme variability in seasonal rainfall directly affects river flows, which vary considerably during the Rabi and the Kharif seasons. In the northern areas, at altitudes of more than 5 000 m, snowfall exceeds 5 000 mm/year and provides the largest resource of water in the glaciated zone. Around 92 percent of the country’s area is classified as semi-arid to arid, facing extreme shortage of precipitation. Most of the irrigated area is classified as semi-arid to arid. The reference crop evapotranspiration varies from 1 150 to 1 800 mm/year (Ahmad, 2008a).
In 2009, the total population was 170 million, of which around 64 percent lived in rural areas (Table 1). The average population density is 214 inhabitants per km2, with the population being concentrated on the Indus plain. The population density in the Balochistan plateau is extremely low because of the mountainous terrain and scarcity of water. Average annual population growth during the period 1999-2009 was an estimated 1.9 percent.
In 2008, access to improved drinking water sources reached 90 percent (95 and 87 percent for the urban and rural population respectively). Sanitation coverage was 45 percent (72 and 29 percent for urban and rural population respectively).