Friday, August 27, 2010

An analysis on Pakistan flood- Our Science, the catastrophe and future trend

The increasing number of extreme events in Pakistan, China and Russia show that climate change impacts in this region are more visible now. The people of Pakistan are facing a second time natural disaster during the past decade in shape of massive flooding in August 2010, after the devastating earthquake in 2005. Unlike the death toll in earthquake of 2005 (80,000 people), human lose in the Pakistan flood is much lower (approximately 1600). However, According to the UN, the displacement and economic lose is more than loses of the Tsunami and the earthquakes of Haiti and Pakistan. UN Secretary General called the Pakistan flood as a slow motion Tsunami where more than 20 million people have been affected. There are number of factors that triggered Pakistan flood, however three are more important; Changing weather/shift in monsoon system in Pakistan due to climate change, Geography of the country and poor flood management system and Lack of community’ capacity to cope with the flood devastation.

Weather change in Pakistan: Pakistan average temperature increase recorded since 1900 has reached 1 degree Celsius, which is more than the global average temperature increase. In May 2006, Multan temperature scored 52 degree Celsius, while in May 2010, Mehenjodaro temperature reached to the record 54 degree Celsius in the history of Pakistan. According to the climate scientists, one of the major impacts of climate change in South Asian region, including Pakistan will be the shift in the monsoon pattern and abnormal rainfall. According to the Pakistan metrological department, during the last 40 years, precipitation has decreased 10 to 15 percent in the plain arid and coastal areas while increased in the northern parts. The current flood in Pakistan is the example of climate shift, while some scientists are also saying that this is a kind of natural disaster that happens once in the century. Scientists also believe that each and every single natural disaster cannot be attributed to the climate change, however massive flooding in Pakistan due to abnormal monsoon rainfall has connections with the changes in the earth ecosystem due to global warming and climate change.

According to Qamar Zaman, director general of Pakistan metrological department, an abnormal monsoon system from Bay of Bengal entered into Pakistan and a rainfall of about 400 millimeters (16 inches) in mountainous areas in the far north of Pakistan and adjoining parts of Afghanistan between July 28 and 29 triggered a torrent of water down the Indus and Kabul Rivers, which was a record in the history of Pakistan. Explaining the possible links of Pakistan flood with the climate change, Qamar Zaman said “the area very rarely receives monsoon rains," pointing to the risk of the monsoon belt shifting as well as changes in the intensity of the monsoon. He said the current floods could also be blamed to some degree on deforestation and more people living in flood-prone areas as the population keeps growing. Pakistan has lost vast areas of forest over the past few decades, while overgrazing often strips degraded land of whatever plant cover is left.

Future trend in South Asian region and Pakistan: According to the scientists, in coming years, monsoon rains in Pakistan will be more abnormal and unexpected. Climate models show that heavy monsoon precipitation has increased in frequency in Pakistan and western India during the recent years. In July 2005, Mumbai was deluged by almost 950mm of rain in just one day, and more than 1,000 people were killed in floods in the state of Maharashtra. Last year, deadly flash floods hit northwestern Pakistan, and Karachi was also flooded. According to the scientists, the global warming will increase the trend of extremes of rainfall which is a growing worldwide trend. Looking at the climatic trends in South Asia, in addition to more extreme rainfall, there is also a reduction of ice over the Tibetan plateau and changing precipitation patterns, with less snow at higher levels, plus more rapid run-off from mountains. The monsoon winds and precipitation can be higher in north-west India and Pakistan and weaker in the north-east. This year with the strong rainfall in the north-west, there is no pronounced decrease in the north-east.

The geography and flood management in Pakistan: The geography of the country, together with the poor flood management system makes this country more vulnerable to floods in Pakistan. The catchment area of the River Swat and Kabul together with melting of glaciers in north increase flow of river water during the monsoon and summer season in the five rivers system and put a large population at risk, living near the rivers. Siltation in rivers has also reduced their capacity. According to the scientists, Sindh River was a monster river some 6000 years before, and then some 4000 years before, its large part dried up. Some scientists believe that changing weather pattern can once again make Sindh River the monster one. In January 1977, Pakistan established Federal Flood Commission, under the ministry of Water and Power for the purpose of integrated flood management on the country wide basis. However, the performance of the commission has remained very disappointing.

Pakistan has a good irrigation system from the five different rivers flowing in the country; however, it lacks proper rainwater harvesting or storage system, particularly to conserve water in the northern and catchments areas. Lack of political will, controversy over the issues of dams’ constructions and lesser attention towards utilizing rain and river waters in more efficient ways lead to wastage of rivers’ water which go down and fall into Arabian Sea without any use. Pakistan forest cover is only 4.7%, while according to the federal minister of environment; annual 14000h forest is depleted in Pakistan which is also a matter of high concern. Massive deforestation also contributed in the flash flood in Pakistan. In Addition, the rainfall was more than 10 times of the rivers’ capacity which had to find its way out towards the plain areas at the both sides of the rivers.

Lack of community capacity: The flood of August 2010 rendered more than 20 million people in Pakistan vulnerable and helpless. So far the estimates by the government show that 1600 people died due to the massive flooding. More than 1000 people died only in KPK provinces, which is more than 60% of total human loses in the aftermath of flood. It is interesting to analyze that the flood hit the KPK province first and due to the lack of early warning system, less time for evacuation and lack of community’ awareness about changing weather pattern, more people died in the KPK. The scale of flooding was also immense in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh, however relatively on time information, the communities could make it possible to evacuate from the risky location, thus having fewer casualties than the KPK, however, are now more vulnerable due to absence of immediate needs like shelter, food and health.

People living near the rivers bank are more vulnerable due to potential risk of flooding. Poverty and unawareness are the other factors which limit the communities’ capacity to take appropriate adaptation measures and protect themselves from the devastation of natural disasters such as floods. According to the Andrew Ash, who leads a climate adaption programme for Australia's state-funded research body the CSIRO, “Pakistan, like any flood-prone country, needed early warning systems, better storage of drinking water, even to move people from vulnerable areas”. Even if the option is to move from the locations, it is difficult for the poor families to leave the areas as they can’t afford new construction or they don’t have resources (cash, land etc). Climate Change adaptation in this situation is vital for the people of Pakistan.

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