Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan faced massive destruction and large-scale displacement due to flash floods and melting glaciers
n Gilgit and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, like the rest of the country, torrential rains have wreaked havoc. The effects of climate change have been felt strongly this year. There has been considerable dislocation from affected and threatened areas to safer places and cities. The migration and displacement have been mostly due to the melting of glaciers and flash floods. According to data provided by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Disaster Management Authority (KP-PDMA), 112 people have lost their lives and 4,184 houses have been destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in June and July alone. Locals say there is more to the severity of the disaster in terms of livelihood losses.
A recent report by German Watch places Pakistan fifth on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change. The report says that Pakistan lost 9,989 lives, suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion and witnessed 152 extreme weather events between 1999 and 2018.
21 rivers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have witnessed flood levels from time to time. The main reason for this is climate change which is taking place in the northern region that shares border with Gilgit-Baltistan. This year, the rains and floods caused havoc in the southern districts as well, taking the local population by surprise. In the upper reaches, several districts of the Malakand division – Chitral, Kohistan, Shangla, Swat and Bajaur – were badly affected by torrential rains this year. Several small glaciers melted in Swat, Chitral and Upper Dir causing a disaster for the local population.
Above these areas, the situation in Gilgit is even worse. According to the Gilgit administration, there are three places in the Gilgit district and eight in the Ghizer district where flash floods (or glacial lake outburst floods) have affected the population. In Gilgit, these freshets have moved to Goro Jaglot, Bargo and Naltar. Due to the inundation of Naltar river, Gilgit city was badly affected. There was no electricity in the city for two days after the powerhouse was flooded. Thousands of acres of agricultural land were affected by floods in Bargo and many people in several villages had to evacuate.
Ghizer was also affected. Many people from Darmadar village, Famani, Momin Abad, Ishkoman, Guldas, Chertoi Gopis, Tawoos, Yasin, Majwar Ishkoman, Pakora Ishkoman and Brandas Ishkoman not only suffered losses from flash floods but also from melting glaciers around these valleys. Most link roads and bridges have been damaged or completely washed away in several places.
In most areas, the public and the administration are unable to determine whether these damages are due to heavy rains or bursting of glaciers.
According to the administration in Darmadar area, 25 houses have been destroyed and five houses have been partially damaged. With several canals destroyed, difficulties are being faced in getting drinking water. As a result, several diseases are on the rise.
Located on the Karakoram, Goro Jaglot has the status of a business hub in the valley. Goro Jaglot faced major financial losses in the recent floods. Many public and private fish farms have been affected by climate changes, including cloud bursts and torrential rains. According to the local administration, the Naltar Highway has been damaged at several places. More than 20 families living on its banks have been affected and dozens of families have been displaced from the vicinity. Forty houses have been declared dangerous by the authorities. Due to this situation, tent villages have been set up at Goro Jaglot and Darmadar. According to local administration, medical facilities are also being provided in these camps.
Besides floods in the upper region, land sliding has been caused by indiscriminate deforestation. Roads have been affected due to erosion along drains and river banks. The communication system has been badly affected due to land sliding.
The situation in the upper areas is also causing climate pressure on the lower regions. Indus River, Swat River, Panjkora River, Kabul River, Kurram River and Tochi River have experienced flooding from time to time. Due to continuous rains, Dir, Kohistan, Shangla, Batgram, Mansehra, Haripur, Bajaur, Buner, Malakand, Mardan, Charsadda, Mohmand, Khyber, Kurram, Nowshera, Kohat, Karak, Lakki Marwat, Bannu and North Waziristan have been the worst hit. Reports of loss of life and property continue to pour in from Tank, South Waziristan and Dera Ismail Khan.
During the recent monsoon season, heavy rains and flash floods in the southern districts were unanticipated. These constituted a rather abnormal weather pattern. Twenty-seven people lost their lives in the Dera Ismail Khan division and several villages were completely wiped out. Hundreds of families had to move to safer places. These areas are subject to extreme heat in summer and heavy rains are rare. But this year, rains have wreaked havoc. Continuous freshets from the mountains of the Sulaiman range have affected all nearby communities. Many water reservoirs have been damaged. Like the upper districts, the southern districts are prone to land erosion. These unusual rains and landslides have also exposed the flaws in the provincial government’s Billion Trees Tsunami Project.
Pakistan has only 5 a percent forest cover. In KP, however, 20.3 percent of the area is under forest cover. The KP has seven out of the nine forest ecosystems in the country. These forests constitute 33 percent of the natural resources; have 52 percent productive forests; and fulfill 40 percent of the market demand.
In an attempt to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had launched its Billion Trees Tsunami Project. But that project was marred by controversy following charges of corruption against those at the helm.
Due to the effects of recent climate change, tourism in the region has suffered. Millions of acres of gardens, farms and fish farms have been lost. In some places, electric power generation plants, roads and bridges have been affected by floods and heavy rains. Electricity and communication systems have been disrupted. Dozens of schools and basic healthcare centres have been completely destroyed or partially damaged. Polio workers have faced severe difficulties in dispensing their duties in the southern districts. Several business centres and shops have been damaged in upper districts and shopkeepers have reported major losses.
According to the Global Climate Index (CRI-2018), Pakistan is the 7th most vulnerable country in the world. It is exposed to the adverse impacts of climate change, resulting in catastrophic floods of 1992, 2005, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2019. Climate change is causing the retreat of glaciers in the Hindu Kush and Himalayan regions. Pakistan needs to take concrete steps to deal with these emerging climate threats.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer on terrorism, conflict and peace development. He can be reached at email@example.com