PM’s aide on climate change, Romina Alam, speaks during a presser at the NDMA headquarters on Thursday.—AFP
PM’s aide on climate change, Romina Alam, speaks during a presser at the NDMA headquarters on Thursday.—AFP

• PM’s aide on climate change says ongoing wave of extreme heat affecting 26 districts to last till May 30
• Glaciers rapidly melting, risk of forest fires exacerbated due to harsh weather

ISLAMABAD: As almost 26 districts of the country swelter in the oppressive heat that has gripped the country since May 21, the climate change ministry said on Thursday the first wave will last until May 30, followed by two more separate heatwaves in June, blaming unsustainable environmental practices and deforestation for the extreme weather conditions.

Addressing a press conference along with senior officials from the National Disa­ster Management Authority (NDMA), Romina Khurshid Alam, the PM’s coordinator on climate change, called upon the federal and provincial government departments to mobilise available reso­urces to protect citizens, particularly children and the elderly, from the sweltering heat.

Citing data from the Pakis­tan Meteorological Depart­ment, Romina Alam noted that temperatures across most regions were currently 5 to 6 degrees Celsius above normal. She revealed that 26 districts in Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan were experiencing severe heatwave conditions, which were expected to persist in three waves throughout the summer.

The first wave, ongoing from May 22-30, would be followed by additional waves in early and late June. As per the state-run APP, she said the second heatwave would be from June 7-8 and the third wave would be during the last week of June.

“The country is facing a severe heatwave, and this is just the beginning,” she stated, adding, “High atmospheric pressure is exacerbating these conditions, adversely affecting the socio-economic activities of our people.”

Joined by NDMA’s Mem­ber for Disaster Risk Reduction Idrees Mahsud, and technical expert Dr Tayyab, the PM’s aide emphasised the importance of comprehensive guidelines and early warnings that had been disseminated to prevent heatwave-related casualties, akin to those during the deadly 2015 heat wave, which had claimed nearly 2,500 lives.

Ms Alam stressed that heat waves were predominantly a human-caused crisis, exacerbated by deforestation and other unsustainable environmental practices. “Global warming is impacting the entire world, and we are seeing its effects in the form of these frequent and intense heat waves,” she explained. “Public awareness campaigns through various media outlets are ongoing to educate people on the health risks and preventive measures.”

Urging swift measures to prevent heat wave casualties, she urged the public to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities, especially vulnerable groups like children, the elderly, and those with serious health conditions. The NDMA was actively working on early warnings and coordinating with provincial departments to manage natural disasters and calamities.

Melting glaciers and forest fires

Ms Alam warned that the heat wave was accelerating glacier melt and increasing the risk of forest fires. The aide advised the public to exercise caution in national parks and avoid discarding cigarette butts or other flammable materials. She also recommended leaving vehicle windows slightly open to prevent fires and ensuring that workers have access to water to prevent heat-related emergencies.

Dr Tayyab from the NDMA informed that Pakistan ranked as the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change, with the agency having developed a disaster calendar projecting natural calamities for the next six months. He noted that recent erratic weather patterns had led to significant rainfall variations, impacting regions, like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Dr Tayyab also highlighted water stress and the risk of drought as major concerns during heat waves, with regions like Tharparkar and Jacobabad already experiencing mild drought conditions.

In response to media queries, Romina Alam confirmed that the PM had established a high-level committee to coordinate efforts across relevant authorities and keep the national forum updated on climate-related challenges.

NDMA’s Mahsud added that the authority was developing a mobile application to provide real-time alerts, advisories, and disaster management plans to the public and media. The NDMA’s national coordination cell maintained close contact with provincial disaster management authorities and international agencies, ensuring comprehensive disaster preparedness and response.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2024

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