Floods still swamp Pak despite warnings
Pakistan has reinforced its weather forecasting services since massive floods struck five years ago, but government agencies are struggling to act on the information, with extreme weather continuing to bring new disasters. Recent flash floods, triggered by heavy monsoon rains in July, were forecast weeks in advance by the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD).
Glacier melt and overflowing glacial lakes, triggered by a sharp rise in temperatures last month, worsened the floods, which have left a trail of destruction.
Around 170 people have been killed and 126 injured. Nearly 5,800 homes have been damaged in around 2,500 villages, and some 920,000 people are displaced by the floods, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
"Massive losses and damages from the recent devastating summer monsoon floods … indicate the brazen unpreparedness of district, provincial and federal government agencies to respond to forecasts," said Arif Mahmood, former PMD director general.
Despite warning of torrential rains and flash floods this summer, provincial governments only woke up to the threat when large swathes of the country were already under water, he noted.
On May 19, forecasts of extreme rainfall exceeding 100 mm per day in the northeast and northwest, and a flash flood warning, were shared with government offices and disaster management agencies so they could take measures to protect people and property, said PMD Director General Ghulam Rasul.
"Loss of lives in flood-hit areas could have been staved off successfully this time had the provincial government and relevant (local) disaster management authorities heeded the PMD's warnings," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We are now able to forecast extreme weather events like torrential rains, floods, glacial lake outburst floods and droughts some three to four weeks in advance, with over 60 percent accuracy," he added.
From 2005 to 2011, Pakistan expanded its glacier monitoring network into the higher Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges to track changing precipitation patterns, the pace of glacial melt and spin-off floods, Rasul noted.
Foreign donors supported the installation of five glacier monitoring stations in northern mountain regions, each costing around $20,000, to better assess climate impacts in the upper Indus basin and related flood hazards.
And in December 2013, the Finnish government provided 10 automatic weather stations for the north of the country.