A mini-cyclone ripped through Peshawar division in April – at least 49 people were killed within hours in a phenomenon not even remotely common to the region. As unpredictability of weather becomes a constant, the province is beginning to feel climate change. As a noun, the phrase becomes contentious and is arguably one of the biggest challenges of the coming era, as climate change proponents argue against oil drilling in the Arctic and opponents brush it off as a myth, quite like the Y2K.
Regardless, changing weather patterns—particularly the monsoon patterns—require more than superfluous measures. Official documents and background interviews reveal not just a lack of resources but also a lack of strategy in understanding the scale of the changes and the fallout of oscillating weather conditions.
What was understood after April is as follows. Since the mini-cyclone/tornado, a number of odd weather events have been recorded. “A fluctuation that’s inconsistent and unpredictable at the same time,” said an official. A report compiled by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) noted a 100 kilometre west-ward change in the monsoon pattern in Pakistan. Linking the shifts to “the mini-cyclone which hit Peshawar on April 26 at 7pm,” the report, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, called the cyclone “an erratic weather phenomenon…the first in the history of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa” and the third of its kind in Pakistan.
Slow but ravaging
But experts believe the pace of ‘change’ has been a gradual one – the effects of which have been more evident over the last decade (2005-2015). These changes have resulted in natural disasters in K-P, an area with a low-risk hazard profile.
The 2010 floods harbingered atypical change. Even though summer floods are part of the region’s profile, according to a paper published in Springer’s Natural Hazards journal in March 2013, the 2010 floods in K-P “broke all previous records of “discharge, damages and amount of rainfall.”
Wajid Ali Khan, former minister for forest and environment elaborated on the abnormal phenomenon and how it might possibly be explained. He said the assessments following the floods revealed majority of the area where the cloud bursts occurred were categorised as potential dry-zones. Yet, “K-P’s forests have exceeded from 17% of the total land of the province to 20.3%,” he told The Express Tribune.
Extrapolating further, Wajid said the weather system of deforestation elsewhere in Pakistan or even in another country ended up impacting the weather of a particular zone, in this case, K-P. “In other words, the magnitude of the problem is global; we could not have done much to prevent the floods.”
Lacking the technology
While local impact might come from global shifts, on-ground prevention is unlikely but essential. Official documents say there is no technology to forecast such weather patterns. The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) claims forecasts of extreme weather changes are difficult to infer, even in developed countries.
The PDMA report said at present no operational weather radars have been installed in the province; some districts have no weather observatories.
The study of upper atmospheric temperature variations has a close link with weather patterns. However, the regional office of PMD at Peshawar has no such capability of monitoring temperature variations in the upper layers to forecast local events.
Documents recommend the federal government take several steps to help tackle such situations.
The most immediate step recommended was to equip the regional office in Peshawar with modern weather forecasting equipment. This is followed by other suggestions, including installation of Doppler weather radars at Cherat and Chitral; rain gauge at Kalpani and other nullahs such as Budhni which can cause urban floods; and observing building codes.
Without abiding by construction codes, buildings have faulty structures and easily collapse, even with winds at moderate speeds. There is also illegal construction of houses adjacent to rivers. An official of the PDMA told The Express Tribune, in semi-urban zones, the outer walls collapse and have multiple impact, including casualties. “It’s unplanned urbanisation,” said the official, “There’s little legislation and even that’s not effective.”
An integrated mechanism is required to cope with climatic change in the area; the 10 dead in the unexpected rainstorm in Upper Dir are grim reminders of the current state of K-P’s efforts to ride out changes in the weather system.
According to a PMD official, “Changes in climate are here to stay, all we can do is minimise the effect.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2015.