Earthly matters: Are we rain-ready?

July 10, 2016


A family heading towards their destination while walking on a damaged road in last year’s floods -File photo
A family heading towards their destination while walking on a damaged road in last year’s floods -File photo

It’s that time of the year again when the country braces itself for the annual monsoon rains, dreading the floods that caused extensive damage to crops and homes in different parts of the country in the last few years. And this year seems to be no exception. Already Pakistan’s Meteorological Department (PMD) has stated that we should expect a heavy monsoon this year, as “Prevailing oceanic and atmospheric conditions are giving indications of good summer monsoon rainfall in the country… Summer monsoon rainfall is likely to be 10-20pc above normal all over the country, averaged for three months”.

The official warning on their website also states: “Some extreme rainfall events are likely to occur in the catchment areas of major rivers and other parts of the country which may cause floods” and that “some heavy downpour events may produce urban flooding in big cities”. There is more bad news for the mountainous north as the warning adds, “Some strong incursions of monsoon currents, coupled with high temperature, may trigger glacial lake outburst floods, landslides and flash floods in upper Khyber Pukthunkwa and Gilgit-Baltistan”.

The question that comes to one’s mind after reading these warnings obviously is: are we prepared for the floods? The answer, unfortunately, is no. There are no early warning systems in place to evacuate people and livestock in time.

People should be empowered at district level to be organised and prepared for the flood season

The director general of the Met department, Dr Ghulam Rasool, has recently admitted to the Senate that there are no weather forecasting systems in 40 districts of the country and to make matters worse, the weather prediction system in the country is over 60 years old. Only seven radars are functional whereas 22 radars are required at the PMD’s flood warning centers. We do not have state-of-the art radars to predict disasters and currently, the PMD gets shared data from Chinese satellites!

The National Disaster Management Authority had prepared a 10-year National Flood Protection Plan, which they presented to the government in 2013. Recently, they have demanded Rs16bn for an effective early warning system under this plan. However, the plan is still waiting for a go ahead from the Council of Common Interests. The plan aims for integrated flood management by focusing on measures such as flood forecasting and early warning, flood risk zoning, watershed management, flood proofing and insurance and disaster management.

According to Dr Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry, senior climate change expert and lead author of Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy, “Considering Pakistan’s high vulnerability from climate change impacts, we need to invest heavily in climate change adaptation measures, which include upgradation of our early warning system, urban drainage systems and ensuring that our future infrastructure is climate resilient”.

Management of dams can certainly be helpful in controlling floodwater but long term planning is definitely needed in order to become climate resilient.

As for the upcoming monsoon rains, he points out that at present “the water availability in our dams is close to full at the start of the monsoon season and with the prediction of above normal monsoon rains during the July-August, our water managers needs to be extra smart in managing and timely routing of flood water to mitigate the chances of flood buildup”.

Management of dams can certainly be helpful in controlling floodwater but long term planning is definitely needed in order to become climate resilient. According to a policy brief on “Hydro Disasters” published by LEAD-Pakistan, a non governmental organisation based in Islamabad, an analysis of disaster management at the federal, provincial and district levels indicates missing links between hazard assessment, preparedness and response among agencies and affected communities at the grassroots level. “We lag behind in action and implementation at the district, taluka, Union Council (UC) and village levels. This can be linked to a lack of integration, communication and coordination between response agencies and non-engagement of grass root communities and civil society organizations. The Pakistan army has time and again demonstrated its capacity to deploy resources more swiftly than civilian agencies in response to natural disasters”.

According to LEAD-Pakistan’s policy brief, “Effective preparedness of the government institutions assigned with the responsibility of managing disasters in Pakistan before, during and after phases of disasters is critically important to minimise losses”. In addition, the following strategies are recommended to prevent hazards turning into disasters: “Implementing appropriate building codes, capacity building, introducing risk insurance mechanisms, forestation and alternate renewable energy solutions like solar energy, involvement of local communities”. In their view, the strengthening of District Disaster Management Authorities is the best solution to optimally cope with hydro hazards as they can implement effective disaster risk reduction plans at the district level with the help of communities and civil society organisations. In other words, the local people of each district should be empowered to be able to help themselves in an organised manner so that they are ready when the flood season arrives each year.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 10th, 2016