Climate Crisis: Pakistan’s snowless winter freezes economic nerve of Kalam, Malam Jabba valleys

As January rolls into February, the northern regions of Pakistan are yet to receive the first snowfall of the season, significantly affecting tourist influx to popular destinations like the Kalam and Malam Jabba valleys.

Traditionally, the northwestern region experiences moderate to heavy snowfall from mid-December to late January. However, after consecutive climate-related challenges, the northern and northwestern parts of Pakistan are now grappling with the new issue of a snowless winter.

Economic impact of Snowless valleys

Snowless peaks are posing a threat to the economic vitality of Kalam and Malam Jabba valleys in the scenic Swat region, often referred to as the “Switzerland of Pakistan.”

Kalam Valley, situated 326 kilometers from Islamabad, relies heavily on winter tourism, usually bustling with tourists at this time eager to witness the captivating sight of snow-capped mountains. The absence of snowfall also poses challenges for agriculture, fishing, and hydroelectricity in the region, leaving it with a brown and barren appearance.

This time last year in January, these valleys were fully decked out in white, powdery snow, a resident told The Friday Times on the phone. This year, the mountains are still waiting for a speck of white.

According to a local hotel owner, there has been a 60% to 70% decline in tourist numbers due to the absence of snow, contrasting sharply with the bustling season of the previous year.

“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,” he told Anadolu, the Ankara-based news agency.

Impact on skiing in Malam Jabba

The situation is mirrored in Malam Jabba, home to Pakistan’s largest ski resort and the core of winter sports festivals, where hotels remain vacant, and local businesses suffer from idle time.

Heavy snow, in many parts of Pakistan, shuts down life. But on the slopes of Malam Jabba in Swat, some 250 kilometers southeast of Chitral, snow brings hundreds of thrill-seeking tourists every year. 

Gliding down its snow-covered slopes on skis or snowboards, skating on ice and taking rides on the chairlift are all key to sustaining the tourism-fuelled local ecosystem.

Mohammad Adil, who runs a hotel in the main Malam Jabba bazaar, said they are eagerly waiting for snowfall as it significantly impacts tourism.

“We are praying for snowfall. That would mean a lot to us. Snowfall is a lifeline for our economy,” Adil told the foreign media outlet.

Iqbal Hussain, director of GB’s Tourism Department, told Anadolu: “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.”

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