Pakistan is a South Asian country lying between India and Afghanistan. It is a country of 204, 924, 861 million people and its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is $1,468.19 (United States' GDP is about $57,000 in comparison), which shows that Pakistan is fairly a poor developing country (CIA, 2017). Pakistan, like the rest of the world, is experiencing many impacts of climate change that need to be addressed through adaptation measures. Some of the impacts are being felt in the mountains, crops and vegetation, and coastal areas. Surface water is degrading while plant phenology and distribution is changing due to plants moving up north at higher elevations (IPCC, 2014). In addition, mountain glaciers are melting and shrinking, which causes increased flow in rivers and many flash floods (IPCC, 2014). More specifically, the Hindu Kush, Himalayas, and the Karakoram mountain glaciers are retreating, and they are especially important for Pakistan as the melt water feeds the main rivers of Pakistan which is used to irrigate the crop lands.
Indus River is the most important river as we talk about floods because increased flow in the river from monsoons and meltwater from the glaciers annually floods the adjacent communities and cropland on the floodplains. Due to climate change, there is an increase in extreme rainfall and heavy precipitation events and a decrease in light, weak rainfall events (IPCC, 2014). Sea level rise is another impact of climate change which coupled with annual extreme flooding submerges low-lying crop areas, especially the rice and wheat growing crop areas (IPCC, 2014). Flooding is the main hazard of focus here as it happens every year, killing and displacing millions of people as well as destroying infrastructure and crops. Therefore, there is a great need for adaptation measures in Pakistan as extreme weather events like floods will continue to be more frequent and extreme. Flooding is caused by a series of other climate change impacts that include: shrinking glaciers, monsoon variability, and sea level rise.
Sea Level Rise
- A sea level rise of approximately two meters can submerge a total of 7,500 square km area, especially the low-lying coastal zones of Sindh and Baluchistan province (Rabbani, Inam, & Tabrez, 2008). For example, the Pasni city of Baluchistan has a mean sea level (MSL) of 1.4 meters, but MSL is rising 1.1 meters per year (taking into consideration that Baluchistan coast is tectonically active) (Rabbani et al., 2008). This MSL rate is consistent with other coastal zones (along the Indus river) of Pakistan. In Karachi, the current MSL is 1.1 year, but it is expected to rise to 2.0 meters at a low scenario and 6.0 meters at a high scenario (Rabbani et al., 2008).
- There will be an increase in the frequency and intensity of storm surges which combined with sea level rise can cause extreme floods in Baluchistan and Sindh region (Rabbani et al., 2008). Moreover, cyclones bring rainfall waters that increase the Indus River discharge and this combined with storm surges cause flooding on the Sindh coast. Higher sea level provides base for storm surges, which is important to note because this combined with rainstorms also causes flooding in the Indus Delta as there is reduced coastal drainage (Rabbani et al., 2008).
- The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) glaciers provide freshwater for irrigation systems for many parts of South Asia, including Pakistan. HKH glaciers are retreating, thinning, and melting due to the impacts of climate change (Bajracharya et al., 2015). As a result, there is an expansion and emergence of glacial lakes, which result in flood outbursts from the newly formed glacial lakes - also known as the glacial lake outburst flood. (Bajracharya et al., 2015; Bajracharya & Mool, 2010; Richardson & Reynolds, 2000). Meltwater from the Shyok Basin glaciers feeds the Indus River, which inundates the low-lying, flat tidal zones on both sides of the river every year.
- The Karakoram glacier has the second highest concentration of glaciers, and 17 of those glaciers have generated 26 surges over a period of hundred years (Richardson & Reynolds, 2000). The Shyok Basin has 79 percent of its glaciers below 5700 meters above sea level, which makes these glaciers particularly more sensitive and vulnerable to climate change (Bajracharya et al., 2015).
- Overall, glaciers in the HKH region have lost 10 to 12 percent of glacial area in1980-2010, but one of the glaciers in the Shyok Basin has lost 27 percent of glacial area (Bajracharya et al., 2015). While most glaciers in HKH retreated, some glaciers in the Shyok Basin have also advanced and surged tributaries in 2000-2010, which might have contributed to the 2010 flood in Pakistan. (Bajracharya et al., 2015).
Extreme Monsoon Events with High Variability
- Precipitation trends of light rain and extreme rainfall events increasingly have strong variability; some regions are gaining more rain while others have decreasing precipitation trends. There is “inter-decadal variability” also in seasonal mean rainfall, which is decreasing and causing frequent shortages of monsoons in different parts of Pakistan (Hijioka et al., 2015). Moreover, increased number of monsoon break days and reduced number of monsoon depressions are constant with the overall decrease in seasonal mean rainfall (Hijioka et al., 2015).
- During the 2010 flood, seasonal monsoon rainfall lasted for more than a month without stopping, which shows that the monsoon was intense while its duration was also extremely long (Keim, 2017). These extreme monsoon events can specifically be attributed to warmer surface waters of the Indian Ocean. Since the 1970s, temperatures have increased by two degrees Fahrenheit which caused the air to be warmer allowing it to hold moisture (Keim, 2017). Thus, monsoon systems had eight percent more water vapor to release through rainfall and to instigate storms that released even more water (Keim, 2017).
Low-lying, rural areas along the Indus River get flooded because they have no buffer zones and each year crop lands and houses are submerged. The 2010 flood of Pakistan affected 20 million people, demolished 54.8 percent of homes, and 77 percent of the flood victims reported some sort of flood-related illness (Kirsch, 2012; Rehman et al., 2015; McGuire, 2018). 7.8 million people were food insecure, 436 health care facilities were destroyed, and 1.4 million acres of crop land were flooded throughout Pakistan, which is a clear disruption to the agricultural sector and food production while 1,600 hundred people died from the flood (“Pakistan floods 'hit 14m people,'” 2010; Kirsch, 2012). Furthermore, 88 percent of households had their incomes affected by the flood where average income dropped from 10,000 Rupees/month to less than 5,000 Rupees/month; 90 percent of rural households were affected while urban households were affect by 75 percent (Kirsch, 2012).
The floods significantly impacted the poor, rural areas more than urban areas and made rural areas even more poor. Six months after the flood, 46.9% of the 2010 flood victims lived as an internally displaced person, which shows that the flood caused an extreme displacement of people. Seven percent of households that reported illnesses related to the 2010 flood had at least one household member with a flood-related sickness whereas urban areas had disproportionately more cases of flood-related illness (Kirsch, 2012). Lastly, disease proliferation took place after floods, which killed even more people as dengue virus peaks during the post monsoon period and the flood made further intensified the peak. (Jahan, 2011). This is because contaminated flood waters expose people to pathogens and toxic compounds (IPCC, 2014).
Rural poverty predisposes rural areas to vulnerability more than urban areas where the agricultural sector and the farmers who rely on it for food and income are the most vulnerable to flooding. Agriculture accounts for 35.2 percent of land use, accounts for 24.7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, and provides for 60 percent of exports (“The World Factbook: Pakistan,” 2018; (Rehman et al., 2015). A flood in September 2014 inundated over one million acres of agricultural land, which impacted 250,000 farmers all over Pakistan (Rehman et al., 2015). The 2010 floods of Pakistan damaged 2.5 million tons of rice, million tons of sugarcane, 0.7 million tons of cotton, and 0.3 million tons of maize; a total crop area of 0.84 million hectares (Rehman et al., 2015). In cost, a total of $19 billion was incurred in 2010-2014 floods for governmental inaction. After the Indus river ruptured its banks and flooded most of central Pakistan in 2010, a judicial investigation resulted in recommendations to avoid another extreme flood, but no action was taken by the government to prevent future floods (North, 2014).
Mismanagement and corruption are a “threat multiplier” for Pakistan. Cutting trees has changed patterns of floods (Rehman et al. 2015) because the government fails to control deforestation and does not enforce laws to protect the trees. Many critique Pakistan’s government for not building dams and reservoirs that could help store and control flood waters (North, 2014). Relief efforts are also inefficient as the international aid does not always go to the flood victims (North, 2014; McGuire, 2018). Furthermore, river dykes were dynamited to prevent flood in urban areas and the flow was directed towards rural areas, which is a form of mismanagement that flooded the farmland and displaced rural villagers (North, 2014; McGuire, 2018). The government is also corrupt because money involved in corruption increased from 195 billion rupees in 2009 to 223 billion rupees in 2010 while the government and police sector are reported as the most corrupt (Ibrahim, 2011). However, the May 2018 elections can hopefully bring forth a better government (Imran Khan’s PTI) that actively works towards growing sustainably, minimizing hazards from floods, and implementing a climate change adaptation framework.
Adaptation and Resilience
2017 Project: Scaling-up of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) risk reduction in Northern Pakistan
Early warning systems through weather monitoring systems, engineering structures and disaster management policies are needed in Northern Pakistan to reduce the hazardous effects of glacial lake outburst floods from the melting glaciers. Early warning systems will protect the communities living near lakes and rivers from the risk of devastating floods. This project will build damns, ponds, spill ways, tree plantation and drainage systems as well as hydrological modelling to minimize flood risk. This project will enable sub-national institutional capabilities to plan and implement climate change-resilient development pathways. This is a 5-year project launched in 2017 to build resilience with the help of Green Climate Fund and UNDP Ministry of Climate Change. The outcome of this project is expected to provide technical skills and knowledge to policy makers so that climate change and disaster management can be integrated into long-term and short-term planning. This project will provide funds for community-based disaster management for water management techniques. "Reducing Risks and Vulnerabilities from Glacier Lake Outburst Floods in Northern Pakistan" older project was also completed in 2015, which was funded by the Adaptation Fund and UNDP. In progress of that project, Pakistan Meteorological Department team had conducted a field visit and installed meteorological observatory at Bagrot valley during in May 2012. This newer project of 2017 project should receive total project investment of $37.5 million from the Green Climate Fund, but the annual budget for last year was $540,000. Moreover,
Source: "Reducing Risks...Northern Pakistan" and "Scaling-up...Northern Pakistan"
Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) 2014: a review
IPCC does not recommend the building of damns and spill ways, which is what the project aforementioned intends to do. The use of hard defenses such as channelization, sea walls, and dams on the rivers and coasts to protect agriculture and human settlements from flooding may have negative consequences for both natural ecosystems and carbon sequestration. This is because hard defenses prevent ecosystems from natural adjustments to changing conditions. Instead of hard defenses, setting aside landward buffer zones along the coasts and rivers would be beneficial for human settlements, agriculture, and ecosystems. Moreover, ecosystem-based adaptation is more beneficial as there is high carbon sequestration potential of the organic-rich soils in mangroves and peat swamp forests, which reduce the risks from flooding as they act as buffer zones. Peat swamp forests also yield possibilities for combining adaptation with mitigation because these forests enable the restoration of degraded areas. Therefore Pakistan should immediately shift to agroforestry practices that grant carbon storage, increase resilience against floods, reduce the financial impact of crop failure, and increase soil organic matter. Pakistan should also invest in creating mangroves and peat swamp forests for ecosystem-based adaptation.
Expected Results of the 2017 Project
- Reach 29 million beneficiaries
- Train 65,000 women for home gardening
- Install 240 water-efficient farming technologies
- Restore 35,000 hectares of land
- 50 weather monitoring stations to collect meteorological data in catchment areas;
- 408 river discharge sensors to collect river flood data and the data will inform hydrological modelling and help create village hazard watch groups.
Source: "Scaling-up...Northern Pakistan"
Concerns for Adaptation
- Resources do not always trickle down from the federal to provincial to local level
- Annual adaptation costs for Pakistan will range from $6 to 14 Billion by 2050
- Climate Finance does not flow down to Pakistan due to issues like falling behind in forming climate change policy
Source: UNFCCC, Syed Mujtaba Hussain
Pakistan joined the Climate Change Convention in 1994 and the Kyoto Protocol in 2005, which are both incredible for a country that lags behind in climate change policy despite many impacts being faced such as the annual floods which are the most destructive and a reoccurring hazard. Extreme weather events like frequent monsoons, melting glaciers, and sea level rise are causing the floods to leave out of their 'natural hazard' category as a disaster. It is evident through GLOFS that floods are no more a natural hazard for Pakistan, especially the northern areas. Hence, adaptation measures like mangroves forests and agroforestry as well as GLOF projects through the UNDP and Green Climate Fund can help Pakistan adapt to annual floods. The 2017 GLOF project is expected to be completed by 2022 and it will be interesting to check on progress made by this project.
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About the Author
Iram Amin, class of 2019, was born in Multan, Pakistan and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is a Environmental Studies and Sociology major with a focus on climate change and ecofeminism. Iram wants to back to Pakistan after studies and engage in social work through Roshni Welfare Organization and help solve environmental issues through community outreach, especially women. She developed this webpage as part of her Adapting Climate Change course taught by Professor Jon Rosales in Spring 2018.