Chitral in the perspective of climate change, effects

Shah Karez

Geographically, Chitral is located in a fragile belt, prone to varying intensity of natural disasters throughout the year caused by flash floods, glaciers lake outburst floods (GLOFs), avalanches, earthquakes and sliding.

Being a semi-paradise on the planet, the area is losing its picturesque landscape due to these hazards. Climate change is considered to be one of the biggest development challenges as the world is facing food insecurity due to water scarcity with the depletion of natural resources. Chitral is not exempted from the effects of climate changes, occurred due to global warming.

Over the past many years monsoons had entered Chitral causing devastating losses. Climate changes related hazards along with earthquakes of varying magnitudes have played havoc in the area causing irreparable loses to lives, destroying social services, infrastructure and inadequate agricultural sector.

The year 2015 saw the wrath of nature for the isolated community of Chitral when in July they were hit by the catastrophic flash floods caused by GLOFs and torrential rains and this was followed by even a worse catastrophic earthquake of 7.5 magnitude.

These calamities had resulted in the loss of many precious human lives beside fully paralyzing the socioeconomic fabric of the district. Hardly the community had recovered, avalanches began to play havoc causing many lives and destroying other assets. According to PDMA contingency plan ,Chitral is profiled one of most vulnerable districts with respect to hazards.

Disaster Reduction Management (DRM) system is a well planned process to cope with disasters. It encompasses a well defined system of preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Unfortunately, in case of Chitral focus has been given on response. Policies and even emergency contingency plans are formed, but practical implementation has been an issues by both the public and private sectors.

Practical implementation of climate related activities will ensure actions to minimize the occurrence of climate related disasters, training and facilitating communities in DRR and emergency response and also making efforts to diversify income resources of the vulnerable communities in order to enable them to cope with emergency and become resilient. There are many challenges that require immediate actions to cope with emergency related issues. If these challenge are not given top priority, any decision or policy on disaster will remain meaningless.

Some of the crucial challenges are lack of coordination among stakeholders, poor mapping and assessment of vulnerable areas, lack of practical implementation of district emergency contingency plan, overburden of district administration responsibilities, transparency and accountability issues in relief distribution, encroachment of river beds, poor utilization of modern communication means and awareness raising activities.

Solutions

There must be a coherent and visible coordination mechanism among the various stakeholders namely DDMU, district administration, emergency force ,GLAs, humanitarian organizations and the communities. Such lacunae hurdles knowledge sharing and timely response and even risk duplication of interventions, that results most affected people get deprived of assistance.

During the PDMA HCIM projects, efforts were made to strengthen the coordination mechanism. Ironically, many NGOs were reluctant to share their mode of emergency interventions with the DDMU and district administration. Until the mechanism of coordination is not streamlined and ensured, any disaster management plan will be immature.

There is also a need of proper Hazards mapping & risk assessment procedures with the full participation of the communities. These are the crucial step in disaster risk management (DRM) and the basis for formulating DRM polices.

These are effective tools for promoting evacuation process, identifying and assessing disaster prone areas and giving awareness to the communities. Another thing needs attention is practical implementation of emergency contingency plan made by the government with the consultation of HOs and the community representatives. Plans and policies are formed but will be of no use if not implemented practically.

Another issue to be addressed is removing extra burden from the shoulders of the district administration. In Chitral the extra charges of DDMO is assigned to the assistant commissioner, who already is over burdened with the administrative responsibilities and leaves very little space for disaster related activities.

The PDMA should establish a separate arrangements for this important task. Appointment of separate DDMO with full fledged staff is need of the time. It has often been observed that there has been a lack of transparency regarding the distribution of relief amongst the affected people. Such issues also occur due to political influence and nepotism on the part of public and private organizations, involved in emergency relief and response.

A transparent mechanism should be established where by all the stakeholders will become accountable to the DDMO . River beds encroachment has become very common in Chitral. According to the law of the land building of infrastructure or plantation is prohibited near the riverbeds. But due to weaknesses and laxity in the state writ people encroach the river beds and this in result narrow the passages of water flow.

During flash flood the passages are blocked and huge damages happen. A well organized early warning systems should be in place to give timely information to the vulnerable communities about the likely hazards. Presently, access to mobile facilities have become accessible throughout the district. Therefore, message can be sent through about any predicted hazards. Other means of communication are pamphlets, circulars to prayer places and utilizing services of volunteers.

One of the most essential components of DRM is CBDRM and this encourages formation of Village Disaster Management Committee ,volunteer groups and organizing training and awareness raising programme. The said volunteers and VDMCs must be equipped with necessary toolkits to take part in any emergency situation. Although Focus Humanitarian (now AKAH), UNDP ,Inter cooperation, al Khitmat Foundation and IUCN have contributed in this regards but it lacks sustainability. However, Focus Humanitarian modules should be appreciated and replicated by other HOs.

These are some of the suggestions that will go a long way to cope with any emergency situation in the district. However, the need of the time is to establish a coherent & relevant policy and planning in the light of ground realities and with the full participation of the all stakeholders. Any decision on disaster must be linked to sustainability and practical implementation.