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Climate change is throwing a lethal mix in Pakistan’s flood problem, says Pakistan climate activist

Report Himalayas Desk, 20 Sept 2022

The recent devastating floods in Pakistan have killed over 1500 people and caused damages to the property worth billions of rupees. While floods are not uncommon in Pakistan, the “climate change is throwing a legal mix into the system”. In an interview with the Report Himalayas, Pakistani journalist and climate change activist, Afia Salam spells out the reasons for the massive floods, can they be prevented and the role of climate change in it.

What has caused the latest spate of floods in Pakistan?

Pakistan has historically been prone to floods. In 2010, we experienced what has been termed as a Super Flood. Those were river floods associated with the excessive volume of water in the river Indus and its tributaries. However, this year, an unprecedented amount of rainfall fell through a monsoon system that moved to the West and made the water come down with great speed and force as hill torrents. The hill torrents reached the areas which are absolutely flat lands and just stood there, inundating vast tracts of crop-lands and settlements. The problem was compounded by the river flood that starts about the middle of the monsoon season. At places, the pressure of water on embankments was so severe that they had to be breached to divert water adding to the volume already in the flooded areas. I think, the main reason was the more than normal rainfall and shifting monsoon due to Climate Change.

Are rains the only reason for this flood or does the melting of glaciers because of climate change also play a role?

Melting of glaciers certainly adds volume to the waters in the extreme north of the country. But that has more of a localized effect, on that particular area rather than the floods downstream.

Pakistan is home to over 700 glaciers. While they are an important source of water, is climate change making them dangerous for Pakistan?

They (glaciers) are the repository of fresh water that Pakistan depends on as monsoons contribute only about 30% of the volume of water and the bulk of it comes from glacial melt. However, the forecast of glacial melt is worrying for all the countries of the HKKH (Hindukush-Karakoram-Himalaya) belt. And it is true in case of Pakistan as well. The Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) are becoming more frequent.

Could dams, if built, have prevented the flooding?

Dams, the large ones, which Pakistan actually has are not meant for flood control. Yes, small dams, check dams, retention walls, weirs in the path of the raging waters are needed. But as I already said the amount of rain was unprecedented and the volume and force of water or its path were not expected. So most of the structures have been washed away, especially in the Balochistan province.

Are floods going to be a regular feature in Pakistan because of climate change? What are precautions and initiatives people and the government need to take in the future to prevent such a situation?

Floods are not a stranger to Pakistan. It is Climate Change that is throwing a lethal mix into the system. We cannot prevent climate change but we need to get better forecasting mechanisms, Disaster Risk Reduction, get settlements away from the path of waterways, and climate-proof our infrastructure.

  • Afia Salam is a Pakistan based climate change activist, who also focuses on issues related to sustainability, gender, media ethics and other rights based issues.

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