Revisiting Floods in Pakistan: A Climate Change Impact
By Anusha Sherazi
Climate Change impacts are causing devastations in various regions of the world. Intense heat waves in Russia, destructive mudslides in China, downpours in countries including Germany and Poland; and horrible floods in Pakistan are a few recent examples. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the climatologists around the world have found that the year 2010 has been the warmest of the 19th century. During 2010, extreme weather raised the tally of windstorm and floods across the world to triple since 1980.
Pakistan is situated in such a temperate zone of the world where it faces an arid climate with weather extremes, both in summers and winters. The temperature records of Pakistan show that the country has experienced one of the highest temperatures in the world, in Mohenjo-Daroo, Sindh, 53.5 °C (128.3 °F) on 26th May, 2010. While a record breaking rainfall of 274mm (10.7 inches) was recorded in Peshawar in 24 hours span. The earlier record was of 187 mm (7.36 inches) of rain in April 2009.
Floods in Pakistan have always brought innumerable catastrophes along. Beginning from year, 1950, flooding killed 2,910 people. Since July 01, 1977 until mid August 2011 (34 years), heavy rains and flooding claimed lives of over 6500 people. In July 1977 rains in Karachi killed 248 people. The meteorological department recorded 207mm rains. In 1993, monsoon rains causes floods which killed 3,084 people in the country.
In 2003, Sindh province was badly affected due to monsoon rains that caused damages in billions of rupees and killed 178 people. In 2007, Cyclone Yemyin submerged lower part of Balochistan province in sea water killing 380 people. The cyclone also killed 213 people in Karachi on its way to Balochistan. In Mid-July till Mid-August 2010 - Pakistan's four provinces (Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Southern Punjab and Sindh) were badly affected during the monsoon rains when dams, rivers and lakes overflowed killing at least 2000 people and affecting 21 million people.
These floods are considered as the worst of their kind in Pakistan's history affecting people of all four provinces. According to the estimates provided by United Nations, the damages caused by flooding in 2010 have exceeded the combined total of individuals affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Moreover Currently the Indus River is at its highest recorded water level in more than 100 years.
In mid August 2011, monsoon rains played havoc once again in Sindh province and parts of Balochistan and South Punjab after the countrywide 2010 floods. Estimates by various agencies agree that over 400 people were killed in 2011 floods, 5.3 million people were affected. The floods destroyed crops on 1.7 million acres.
Experts believe that climate change is one of the key causes of changing patterns in monsoon and flooding. The ongoing global warming has already resulted in catastrophic weather events and is expected to bring more; such as increase in the frequency and intensity of floods, droughts and extreme precipitation events worldwide.
This immense climate change phenomenon is also responsible for melting of Himalayan and Hindu Kush mountain ranges which contain earth’s third largest single mass of frozen water, surpassed only by the North and South Poles. Just as the glaciers in Himalayan and Hindu Kush mountain ranges are rapidly melting, the snow contained in the Arctic is also beginning to melt. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Himalayan glaciers are expected to melt entirely by 2305. The water flowing down from the mountain ranges is already rushing toward some of the most densely populated regions in the world. Together, the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush feed ten major river systems, including the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Yangtze, Mekong and Yellow Rivers and, of course, the rivers now flooding Pakistan. Around one-fifth of the world’s population, mostly in South Asia, lives near these rivers. The kind of floods recently hit Pakistan may become more frequent and intense in future due to unusual monsoon patterns emerging from the Arabian Sea.
We need to have mitigation and adaptation measures to check catastrophic impacts of climate change causing floods and other environmental hazards in Pakistan. We need to improve or set in place early warning and real time flood waves monitoring system. As a first line of defence, we need to build capacity of people in terms of disaster risk reduction (DRR) so that they can ensure protection against floods. The vulnerable communities need to know of preparedness tools and gadgets to minimize the risks of devastation. We need to check deforestation on the mountains areas. We need to guide the forest communities to plant only selected species of trees suitable and sustainable in respective temperature and moisture regimes as an adaptation measure. Proper and sustainable forestation can help mitigate climate change impacts. There are a lot of other efforts and measures we can take to adapt to the climate change. But the efforts require a commitment on the part of the people and the governments as it is a national responsibility to protect environment for our people and for the globe.