One year after its worst flooding, is Pakistan ready for monsoon season?
Pakistan’s record floods last year killed some 2,000 people and displaced 20 million. Many officials say the country is still not properly prepared to deal with this year's imminent monsoon season.
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An internal NDMA report obtained by the Monitor indicated that coordination between the government and 12 UN organizations suffered from a lack of coordination with local authorities last year, at times hampered by language difficulties.Skip to next paragraph
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A senior official also cites out-of-date breaching plans for the various dams along the River Indus as a danger. The plans were devised by the British in the 1920s.
As it works now, breaching the dam would mean flooding areas that are now populated by infrastructure such as gas fields, military cantonments, and chemical factories. “You are left between the devil and the deep sea. If you breach the right bank you drown populated districts,” he says.
Authorities are more confident about the ability of new early warning systems put in place following last year's disaster to alert and evacuate potential flood victims. But, says the senior official, the monitoring systems in place for Pakistan’s western rivers, including the Kabul River, which flows from Afghanistan, are not as widely covered as the rivers from India and China (the rivers that flooded in 2010).
What's global warming got to do with it?
While rains this year aren’t expected to be as heavy as last year’s, which saw 180 percent of normal monsoon rainfall in some areas, scientists predict giant flood events are more likely in the future, partly due to global warming.
“The north of Pakistan is a turmoil area due to wars and conflicts. The little vegetation left is rapidly being removed, which leads to more runoff and flooding. Higher temperatures will remove more carbon from soils and reduce vegetation as well,” says Ausaf Rahman, a geology and hydrology expert.
Historically, catastrophic floods in the Indus River Plain occur every 100 years, while major events occur every 20 years or so, says Peter Clift, a professor at Department of Geology and Petroleum Geology at the University of Aberdeen, who has spent time researching core sediments that indicate when sediment from the floods have run-off to the ocean in the port city of Karachi.
“As a good rule of thumb, we associate strong monsoons with global warming. Not necessarily every year but many years,” says Dr. Clift, though he adds the strength of sun rays reaching the planet – the same processes that drive shrinking and growing of ice sheets – also affect the intensity of the monsoon in the long-term. Short-term variation, he says, occurs due to the jet stream and the strength of the El Niño.
Staff writer Ben Arnoldy contributed to this report.