ALTHOUGH Pakistan ranks second in the list of countries most affected by climate change, it is ill-prepared to face the effects of extreme weather events. The Senate standing committee on climate change which met in Islamabad last month was informed by meteorological department officials — to the surprise of some members — that they were working with outdated radars.

Such a situation is fraught with danger as major storms and floods can hit with the population being unaware of the upcoming events, thus causing more deaths and damage to property and livestock. Since the massive flooding of 2010, which is believed to be the first disaster linked with climate change, there had been unusually high rains and storms every year as monsoon season set in.

But effective measures have yet to be taken by the climate change ministry, particularly to update the weather forecasting infrastructure. Its forecasting technologies are out of date resulting in the Met office finding it difficult to provide at least 48 hours’ warning.

The DG Met Office, while giving a briefing to the standing committee members, said 22 radars were needed to collect information about the weather situation and further transmit it to the possible affectees. Currently there are seven flood warning radars all of which had become obsolete. It is interesting to note that a radar installed in Sialkot in 1978 is still functional.


Weather forecasting technologies are out of date resulting in the Met office finding it difficult to provide at least 48 hours’ warning


In what way these radars are still helpful to the Met staff is difficult to understand. The life span of a radar is 10 years but in Pakistan all radars are 20 years old and described as useful. The DG Met says, “Since we fail in taking timely steps in dealing with floods and natural calamities, a huge loss to life and property is caused.”

Every year, the monsoon season brings with it a trail of destruction, particularly when rains become increasingly difficult to forecast. Last year, an entire district was devastated by glacial lake outburst floods in Chitral following a sudden downpour that the Met office was unable to forecast. Then the cotton crop faced a massive failure due to the high floods and other climatic factors. Pakistan’s vulnerability to changing weather patterns is extremely high, either because of erosion of agricultural productivity or as a result of floods.

A report submitted recently to the National Assembly says the country has suffered losses worth $20bn due to climate change and its harsh effects in the recent past. Keeping in view the figure of losses, one may note that the Met office had recently proposed a Rs7bn project for a modern early warning system (EWS) for the entire country, with 21 radars, but it was rejected by the bureaucracy for being too costly.

Historically the phenomenon of climate change has never received the kind of importance it deserves from the official elite. The ministry of climate change was dissolved by the present federal government after it assumed power, stating that it was a waste of money. It was degraded to the status of a division.

The ministry was revived again last year when the government realised that climate change was a serious matter. At present, the country’s technical and financial capacity cannot resist the onslaught of changing patterns of climate.

Hence, there is no option left for officials and the population but to prepare themselves to neutralise the impact of climate change as much as possible. Meanwhile, a new radar system is being set up in Mardan which would be operational by 2017. Besides, the government is keen on modernising the EWS given the increasing frequency of weather-related disasters.

Speaking after the signing of the Paris climate agreement on behalf of Pakistan at the UN General Assembly in April, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan tried to give a positive picture of the country’s efforts towards containing climate change effects. He said Pakistan would establish a climate change council and climate change authority and that more than 5pc of its annual budget was to be spent on climate change activities.

Chaudhry Nisar informed the international community at the UN that Pakistan was strengthening its institutional structures to step up action to stave off the most drastic effects of climate change.

At the same time, he pointed out that adequate resources were critical for climate action in developing countries. Since trillions of dollars were needed globally to effectively respond to climate change impact, he said the bulk of this amount should be spent in developing countries, because their challenges and needs were enormous. Fulfilment of financial obligations, particularly meeting the target of $100bn fixed by developed countries is extremely important.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, July 11th, 2016

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