Climate change: Chitral needs special attention

Actually it was late September this year when I conceived to write this article but due to some unavoidable circumstances it could not be completed.

Thanks to the GLOF project Chitral, particularly its Manager Hameed Ahmed Mir, who gave me an opportunity to attend a workshop on Disaster Risks Management which instigated me to complete the remaining 25% work on this article. Chitral , the northern mountain district of Pakistan, experienced the worst flooding during the previous few years.

Seeing the environmental disasters environmental specialists have been warning that the frequency of floods, droughts, storms, avalanche will go up due to climate change. The large number of flash floods across the district last summer appears to be proving their point. So how should our policymakers and policy implementers should respond towards and prepare to cope with. Experts and activists are of the view that the government should come forth with tangible policies; civil society and media play their role to overcome the situation by creating greater awareness towards climate change and the disasters and also smoothing surface for policy implementation.

Environmental experts and scientists pointed out that the entire mountainous belt in northern Pakistan, Chitral, is prone to such disasters, especially since the weather has started behaving quite irregularly. “The disasters in Chitral were caused by floods which were results of Glacier Lake Outburst (GLOF), heavy rainfall and subsequent flash floods. Did we have early warning systems or any kind of preparation towards this? Obviously No we didn’t.

The losses could be minimized if there are warning systems in the potential risky areas and also risk reduction preparedness. “If you have modern technological support like satellite data and radars, you will be able to quantitatively forecast rainfall; and once you know this, you can start warning the people in advance which will greatly help, avoiding huge loss of life, says renowned environmental scientist Dr. Z.B Mirza. “The information about a likely flood event can be sent to mobile phones and radio stations so that people can start safeguarding their lives” Dr. Mirza added.

The northern part of Pakistan with geographic peculiarities like that of Chitral needs to have specific development designs and building codes. “In the government policies and regulations many things could be seen in papers but unfortunately it has never been implemented, one geological expert shared. According to law of the land the river valleys are prohibited for any kind of human settlings but due to problem connected to policy execution all kinds of constructions are taking place along river valleys even government building could easily be seen close to river beds and high risk zone along with streams. It needs serious attention and probing as to why the government regulations have not been adhered to in Chitral district. (focusing only on Chitral, but the situation is almost same in other parts of our country).

Experts and elderly people opine that the river and stream catchment areas are always considered to be same as the stream or river itself but we can easily witness huge constructions on the sides which are always prone to hazards. Once there are floods it easily turns to be disaster. Such constructions are encroachments contributing in minimizing the way for water flow thus allowing flood water to make its own route by its own power. Actually the flood water doesn’t interfere in human settlement rather human being has disturbed the “way” of water and encroached into it.

Whereas flood water use its conventional route where it has flown once, leaving indication of its flow as well. This year Chitral was declared the most flood effected district during monsoon season. Though loss of life were not too high but the floods damaged property worth millions of rupees which left very bad impacts on socio-economic standard of natives, damaged the infrastructures.

One expert, Hameed Mir, working with UNDP-GLOF project, says that such events are going to become routine in future in the wake of climate change. He warns about many vulnerable areas of serious disaster if any extreme meteorological event occurs. Considering the fragile ecology GLOF and irregular series of rainfall during the past few years and subsequent devastating floods have rung alarm bells for the entire district.

Since the whole district is a part of the same fragile belt, so any extreme meteorological event can create mayhem in this scenic and strategically important northern part of Pakistan. “As we have a reasonable presence of glacial lakes in different parts of upper Chitral and in the event of complex meteorological developments these glacial lakes have the liability to burst,” Hameed Mir said.

While talking about the natural disasters, we should not only confine to floods rather the area is prone to avalanche, land and mud sliding, hailstorm and earthquake. All these hazardous risks are predicted by experts.