Deadly Monsoon: Pakistan’s Climate Change Policy Remains Stagnant

Sep 7th, 2014 | By | Category: Disasters and Climate Change, Pakistan

A couple wades through a flooded road after heavy rains in LahoreDawn: As deaths mount and cities continue to flood, experts are once again sounding the alarm bells over the impacts of climate change in Pakistan.

More than 110 have been killed in Punjab, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to the heavy torrential rain since Thursday. A number of cities have received over 130mm of rain and the National Disaster Management Authority has said it expects “exceptionally high flooding” in the Chenab and Jhelum rivers over the next few days.

A high-intensity, late monsoon such as this is becoming a pattern now but according to experts the country is yet to learn from recent disasters.

“Earlier we would have well distributed rains during the monsoon season. Now thanks to climate change, the monsoon is becoming more erratic. This season the rainfall was largely below normal and now at the end of the monsoon we have a strong system with high intensity rainfall which is causing destruction,” explains Dr Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry who has recently been appointed Special Envoy of the UN-World Meteorological Organisation on Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Services for Asia.

Chaudhry is the former Director-General of the Pakistan Meteorological Department and also the lead author of Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy (NCCP).

“The NCCP had called for an improvement in flood forecasting systems across the country,” he points out.

“It had also called for the increased capacity of storm drainage systems in urban areas in expectation of the increased intensity of rainfall events.”

Unfortunately, the comprehensive NCCP that was launched by the PPP government in February 2013 has now been shelved. Shortly after coming to power in the May 2013 general elections, the PML(N)-led government demoted the Ministry of Climate Change to a Division and slashed its budget. The national action plan to implement the NCCP in consultation with all the provinces and regions was never initiated in earnest.

According to Chaudhry, the NCCP was not being implemented simply because climate issues ranked very low on the country’s priority list.

The NCCP highlighted the country’s vulnerabilities to climate change which include erratic monsoon rains, increase in extreme weather events like floods and droughts, projected recession in glacial reserves (a major source of fresh water for Pakistan) and an increase in heat and water stress conditions among others.

For the past three years, the country has topped the list of the Global Climate Risk Index produced by Germanwatch, an NGO that works on global equity issues.

In 2010, Pakistan was listed as the number one country in the world affected by climate related disasters (due to the massive flooding that hit the country); in 2011 it was ranked as number three. Last year’s report listed Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan as hardest hit by weather disasters in 2012. This year’s report will be launched at the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Peru in December.

According to Chaudhry, the pattern of recent extreme weather in Pakistan (such as the super floods of 2010 and the more localised floods of 2011 and 2012) clearly indicate the increased frequency and intensity of such events, which is in line with international climate change projections. Scientists all over the world say the debate on climate change is now over and there is a clear consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet. They expect this will lead in future to more evaporation of water, moister air and heavier rainfall.

‘Life getting worse for Pakistanis’

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently launched their Fifth Assessment Report, which has concluded that the scientific evidence for climate change is “unequivocal” with human activity extremely likely to be the cause. The report finds that there is widespread evidence of climate change impacts “on all continents and across the oceans.”

The Asian region as a whole experienced the most weather and climate-related disasters in the world between 2000 and 2008 and suffered the second highest proportion (almost 30 per cent) of total global economic losses. The IPCC finds that the risk of deaths due to flooding is highly concentrated in Asia and that an increase in extreme rainfall events related to monsoons will be very likely in the region. According to the panel, adaptation is the only effective option to manage the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Adaptation is fundamentally about risk management and South Asia has many adaptation options.

Pakistan urgently needs early warning systems at the district level and other Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) activities, but as Chaudhry points out “normally countries would use devastating floods like the ones that occurred in 2010 as an opportunity to improve early warning systems and other systems but our country has not been investing enough in this area.”

A recent BBC report on communicating climate change in Pakistan finds that people across the country are now experiencing unpredictable rainfall, increased temperatures and changes to the seasons. The Climate Asia Report found that 54 per cent of people that they surveyed across Pakistan think life has become worse in recent years. They have much lower confidence in their government to act.

Climate change is not going away; in fact it is going to get much worse and the government needs to adapt to its impacts on an urgent basis.

Pakistan must act now. Other countries in the region like Bangladesh are already doing it and we can learn from them.

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