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Pakistan faces flood threat, says study

December 22, 2011

A woman pulls a goat as she wades out of the flood waters in Badin, September 22, 2011. — Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has been warned of frequent floods of disastrous nature like the ones that battered the country in 2010 and 2011 in the Indus river owing to rapid glacier retreat and shifting of monsoonal zones by about 100 kilometres towards northwest regions.

In a recent communication it sent to the government, the Asian Development Bank called for continuous focus on flood preparedness instead of an episodic and temporary reaction to the post-flood situation.

The communication is based on assessments of a research and consulta-tion carried out by a task force set up by the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP).

According to the analysis, the massive back-to-back floods in 2010 and 2011 suggest that one of the major external factors, the frequency of extreme rainfall and run-offs, might be changing.

Research shows that the monsoonal zone of Pakistan (a region that receives 65 per cent of total monsoon rains) has shifted 80-100km from northeast (upper Punjab and Kashmir region) to northwest (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northwest Punjab regions).

This suggests that the location of heavy rainfall events during the monsoon will move from northeast to northwest Pakistan. 'As a result, areas along the western rivers of the country Indus and Kabul will be extremely vulnerable to flood episodes similar to the one experienced during 2010.

It says that while understanding of the interaction of climate change and glacial change is still rudimentary, 'it is highly likely that the general pattern will be retreat of the glaciers of the Himalayan Karakoram Hindukush (HKH) region in Pakistan' As glaciers retreat, glacial lakes are formed behind moraine or ice dams or inside the glaciers, which can breach its walls suddenly, leading to a discharge of huge volumes of water and debris. Suchoutbursts have the potential of releasing millions of cubic metres of water in a few hours causing catastrophic flooding downstream and damaging life, property, forest, agricultural farms and infrastructure.

Known as Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (Glofs), these floods can in a single event cause major economic damage and social repercussions for a sizable population living in the HKH belt.

The document said that Pakistan's current disaster management policies, risk reduction and preparedness plans addressed recurrent natural hazards but were not yet geared to deal with the new dimension of Glof threats.

Pakistan has been advised to follow asuccess story in Bangladesh where a combination of early-warning systems, preparedness and adaptation of public buildings to be used as safe-houses has resulted in dramatic reduction in loss of human lives due to flooding and cyclones.

Pakistani authorities have been advised to take multiple actions over a protracted period, including watershed management by rehabilitating lost forest cover and preventing further cutting of trees for commercial purpose.

They have also been asked to evolve a communitybased disaster risk management system to create awareness about vulnerabilities and preparedness and maintenance of the protection infrastructure.