THE Gilgit-Baltistan government has issued an alert about the possible flooding of areas along river banks and nullahs owing to the rapidly melting glaciers amid an ongoing heatwave. The next few days will be critical — especially for communities living under constant threat in the downstream areas and near lakes and rivers. In recent years the region has been hit by an increasing number of natural disasters — flash floods, glacial lake outburst flooding, landslides and earthquakes —as a result of the changing global climate. Reports suggest that the incidence of landslides and flash floods has increased in both winter and summer after the 2010 super floods. According to a report, melting glaciers in the Himalayan, Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges have created thousands of glacial lakes in the north. In the last couple of months, for instance, people from several districts of the region have seen their roads, bridges, homes and livelihoods washed away by floods triggered by torrential rains and glacial lake outbursts caused by fast-melting glaciers. The recurrent flooding has damaged crops and trees, and displaced communities. In some cases, lives have been lost. Even though the government and its disaster management agencies claim they have a plan to deal with the situation, past experience shows that help always arrives a little too late.
Disaster management has remained a problematic area in the country, despite the investments of billions of rupees and the creation of new agencies to deal with catastrophic situations. That is mainly because the role of the disaster management agencies has remained limited largely to the provision of rescue services and shelter for the victims. There’s no comprehensive strategy to minimise the impact of disasters, especially floods, on the people and economy. A few weeks ago, the federal climate change minister warned that large parts of the country could face floods in the aftermath of torrential rains this year and that there was a “clear risk of flooding in Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Islamabad and other big cities”. Has anything been done to prepare for such a situation? No. True, no one can avert natural disasters. But this should not stop governments from taking steps to mitigate their impact. With experts predicting more extreme natural events in the years ahead, because of the effects of climate change, it is imperative that the role of disaster management agencies is redefined and investments are made in communities that are more vulnerable to dangerous weather events.
Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2022