Climate change catching Pakistan unprepared
KARACHI: The highly acclaimed South Asian Climate Outlook Forum has forecast a “weaker monsoon for Pakistan, almost like that of the last year,” stirring concerns of a further decrease in the per capita water availability. In case of India, the monsoons would be in deficit too.
Based in Pune, India, SASCOF, is the World Meteorological Organization’s regional subsidiary. It prepares seasonal climate information on a regional scale offering a consistent basis for preparing national level weather outlooks.
According to SASCOF’s forecast, the July to September monsoon rains across Pakistan would be 10-15 per cent less than average. In case of the provincial breakdown, the rainfall in Sindh and Balochistan would be 20-25 per cent less than the monsoon season average. In case of South Punjab, it is expected to be 15 per cent less than the seasonal average. But in case of upper and central Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there would be normal rains, so it is not exactly a doom and gloom scenario. The situation looks like the exact template of 2018 monsoon, keeping the demand for irrigation water and hydropower generation high largely in south, but the proverbial silver lining for agriculture production towards the north.
The final word would be the official Pak Meteorological Department. The met pundits however warn that deficit monsoon rainfall does not mean that there will be no floods, which is a largely misunderstood phenomenon. “Flooding happens due to intensity of rainfall at a specific temporal and spatial scale and has little to do with the overall seasonal pattern.” The experts believe, “Sometimes the whole month’s expected downpour, just falls in one day setting into motion massive flooding.”
The 1992 rains are a horrific reminder when the rainfall over River Jhelum from Sept 7-11 caused massive flooding. The 4-day rainfall hit a historic record of heavier rains than recorded for September. It was the worst flood after 1959.
Islamabad virtually drowned in 2001 cloud burst when on July 23, it received an unprecedented heavy rainfall of 620 mm.
The devastating deluge of 2010 was triggered by three-day long incessant rains in KPK and Punjab with rainfall ranging from 219 mm in Rawalpindi to a whooping 419 mm in Risalpur. Islamabad received 394 mm, Peshawar 333mm, Lahore 288mm. The rainfall was over and above the monthly average. Against this background, the heavy rainfall poses a hazard to the cities with often encroached and blocked drainage systems creating a looming spectre of urban flooding. Climatology is a complex science requiring serious government ownership to understand and tackle the looming existential challenges.
Earlier in April 2019, one of the Standing Committees on Water Resources was informed of a major risk of a ‘Super Flood during the July to September monsoons,’ creating sensational headlines. The issue did raise concern but was largely neglected by the met community and no one followed it up with serious research. The warning by the Ahmad Kamal, Chairman Flood Commission, was based on scientific calculations of “a strong likelihood of synchronising of large amount of snow melt along with monsoon rainfall” and virtually non existent flood protection infrastructure.
We received ‘heavy snowfall’ in late 2018 and early 2019 and like always it is expected to generate large scale melting in June and July. The melting begins in April-May but the relatively’ warm water’ of the rain expedites the process further in July to September. “The period of accelerated snow melt, apprehended by Kamal is likely to coincide with the peak monsoon season when the rivers would be brimming full of capacity and so a strong likelihood of a serious hazard. So this way a precious and abundant resource poses serious complications. This calls for serious and specific research on the behavior of rains and glacial melt.
It is only hoped and prayed that the synchronization does not happen and steps are taken to keep population from the harms way, but here lies our failing. Major knowledge gaps exist in understanding the impacts, and vulnerabilities created by climate change. We have capacity issues and consequently very little understanding of the behavior of the prized Hindukush-Karakoram-Himalaya glaciated region.
The global warming and the consequent climate changes have plunged the global weather pattern into disarray. Experts are calling 2019 “a year of climatic anomalies”.
Balochistan swings from drought to floods like a pendulum. There is a severe drought in province due to a weaker monsoon of 2018 and it remained dry until March 2019. But a sudden bout of heavy rainfall in March-April caused flooding. Met experts term this “ co-occurrence of the two extremes of drought and flooding as very rare.”
Punjab was next in line for the nature’s wrath. The sudden and unexpected heavy rainfall in April and May also damaged the mature crops in Punjab. The farmers had hardly finished harvesting when the standing crop was wasted in the incessant rains. Similarly, hundreds of stacks of harvested wheat were lost lying submerged under rainwater. That was not the only shock. The consternation over the washed out matches of the Cricket World Cup, with a lurking fear for the remaining fixtures. That was surprising since June and July were always dry months in England and rightly chosen to be ideal for the Cricket World Cup. Wimbeldon Tennis Championship is played in the same period, July 1-14, for decades, after all.
As the global temperatures and the amount of lethal green house gases increase, the mother nature is putting out an anomalous and castastrophic behavior, offering opportunities to understand, prevent and adapt to climate change.