By Saleem Shaikh
Thu, 31 Oct 2013
Thomson Reuters Foundation
Short climate video story
Pakistan’s mountain farmers struggle with erratic weather
By Saleem Shaikh
Thu, 3 Oct 2013 01:03 PM
AlertNet Climate, Thomson Reuters Foundation
DANYORE, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – One night was all it took for Bibi Baskiya’s fortunes to be reversed. In June the young farmer had sown maize on half an acre of land in Danyore, a scenic mountain village in northern Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan province.
On Sept. 12 it was sunny and the skies were so clear that Baskiya watered her crop from a nearby spring, certain there would be no rain. But that night, her hopes of a good harvest were destroyed.
“A sudden rainstorm and heavy winds flattened 80 percent of the standing crop,” she said. The maize is now only good to be used as fodder for her cattle, and she will not recover the cost of cultivating it.
Baskiya is one of many farmers in this remote region whose livelihoods are threatened by the effects of erratic weather and climate change. Experts say measures are desperately needed to help them adapt to unreliable rainfall, but few – if any – are available so far.
“We farmers are really helpless before the inconsistent weather,” said Baskiya. “We are thinking to abandon growing maize and wheat, and cultivate cash crops like tomato and potato instead that are short-duration and less water-intensive.”
Maize is the most important summer crop after wheat in northern Pakistan’s Upper Indus Basin (UIB). The grain is harvested to eat, while the stover (dried stalks and leaves) is used to feed livestock during the winter.
“Owing to erratic weather patterns, the area under the staple crops in most of Gilgit-Baltistan province in UIB has shrunk alarmingly, and vegetables are now being grown as cash crops,” said Asmat Ali, director of the province’s agriculture department.
An estimated 70 percent of the wheat consumed locally must now be imported from Punjab province in eastern Pakistan and Sindh in the south, Ali added.
Cash crop farmers are also suffering the consequences of extreme weather.
Ali Da’ad, 50, a vegetable farmer in Danyore, said his potato and tomato crops have been struck by lightning several times.
“There has been a significant escalation in lightning activity and thunderstorms over the last 10 years, particularly during summer months,” Da’ad said.
The lightning has triggered fires, damaging crops and endangering populated areas. At the same time, rainfall is increasingly unpredictable, causing crops to fail.
“In Gilgit district, rains are no longer even and fall patchily during the summer months,” Da’ad explained. “Sometimes it is intense and sometimes not.”
Muhammad Iqbal, chairman of Local Support Organisation Danyore (LSO-D), a nongovernmental group working for rural development, said rains are unequal even within Danyore village. “When it rains in the eastern part of the village, the west remains without it,” he said.
DELAYED SNOW MELT
Gilgit-Baltistan is home to the world’s largest frozen water reservoir, which feeds the Indus river system – a lifeline for Pakistan’s agro-based economy.
Farmers in the province depend on melting snow from April onwards to replenish streams, enabling them to sow seasonal vegetables and maize from late May. But Da’ad said prolonged winter weather is causing the snows to melt later, making it difficult to plant crops in time.
Nek Parveen of LSO-D said this year streams filled 50 days later than expected.
“Women wheat farmers in Sultanabad village (adjacent to Danyore) suffered substantial financial losses early this April, as they had to prematurely harvest after farmers sensed (the crop’s) growth had halted,” Parveen said.
According to Ghulam Rasul, a scientist at the state-owned Pakistan Meteorology Department in Islamabad, rainfall in the province has become less frequent but more intense over the past 50 years.
The decrease in winter precipitation and snowfall due to rising temperatures in the area is affecting Pakistan’s hydrological cycle and hampering the country’s agricultural growth, Rasul said.
“Investing in farmers’ climate adaptation capacity building and knowledge development can help them cope with impacts of climatic variability on their crops,” said LSO-D’s Iqbal.
HARD TO REACH
Iqbal sees a need for the construction of small or medium-sized reservoirs in the foothills and plains, so that water from streams can be harvested for use during the dry season and the winter, both for farming and domestic purposes.
But there has been little progress in the province so far, where development agencies are hampered by the inaccessibility of much of the terrain, political inertia, and a volatile security situation due to conflict between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim sects.
Jamil Uddin, who manages programmes in the Gilgit region for the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), said his organisation plans to introduce climate mitigation and adaptation measures for the province’s farmers.
“Our experiences show that information-sharing programmes for mountain farmers and communities about better, proven adaptation and mitigation measures can enable (them) to cope with the aftermath of rapidly occurring climatic variability,” he said.
The AKRSP hopes to bring climate-resilient crop varieties and water conservation technologies to farmers.
According to LSO-D’s Iqbal, transmitting weather forecasts via FM radio and free SMS texts on mobile phones would help farmers, who now rely on indigenous techniques that are increasingly inaccurate as weather patterns become harder to predict.
Iqbal emphasised that helping mountain farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change is vital to support the livelihoods of rural people and maintain an acceptable level of food security.
Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Thomson Reuters Foundation – Thu, 1 Aug 2013
SIALKOT, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – “We kept quivering with fear the whole night and could not sleep even a wink,” recalled Salma Zehra, a mother of five teenage children. The family trembled to think that the roof of their mud house could cave in at any time, as the rain lashed down in a huge thunderstorm.
By early morning on July 22, the house in Mehtabpur village in northeast Pakistan’s Sialkot district was waist-deep in water. The torrential downpour had left Zehra’s two buffaloes dead, the 45-year-old said in a shaky voice.
Another bout of heavy rain followed later that night. The Dek tributary of the Chenab River in Sialkot, 192 km (122 miles) from Islamabad, burst its banks, submerging more than 72 villages in the district.
Besides Sialkot, other districts in Punjab province have also suffered massive damage to crops across 1,000 hectares of land, as well as to properties. According to the district disaster management authorities of Sialkot, Gujranwala and Narowal, an estimated 400 villages have been flooded.
Officials have declined to give final figures for the losses, but say dozens have died and thousands of people remain stranded in the affected parts of the three districts. Some are starting to return home, but many houses have collapsed and must be rebuilt, they report.
Sialkot District Coordination Officer Iftikhar Ali Sahu told Thomson Reuters Foundation thousands of people had been trapped on the roofs of their houses during the worst of the flooding. “Mortality among cattle is high – the number of dead animals continued to rise as the floodwaters began to recede on July 26,” he added.
The situation in adjoining districts is just as bad. In Narowal alone, around 2,000 people were marooned on their rooftops in some seven villages a week ago.
Less than 30 percent of the floodwater has yet to recede, according to Mujahid Sherdil, director-general of the Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority.
Machines have been brought in to help drain water out of the flood-affected areas, and he hopes the task will be accomplished in the next two to three days, he told Thomson Reuters Foundation from Lahore.
Sherdil said the torrential rainfall had caused breaches of irrigation canals, streams and natural dams, and the floods had washed away crops, livestock, roads, bridges, buildings and even entire villages.
Farmers say surviving cattle in flood-hit areas are now at risk.
“Besides paddy, maize and vegetable crops, fodder fields are also underwater. This has created an acute shortage of fodder, and it is barely possible to save our cattle from the looming threat of hunger and disease,” said Zehra’s husband, Ghulam Abbas.
The above-normal monsoon rains in Punjab’s northeastern districts have taken weather experts by surprise.
“Last month, we predicted that this year monsoon rains across the country would remain normal with no possibility of flooding. But unexpected heavy rains in the northeastern districts are startling for us,” said Ghulam Rasul, a senior weather scientist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) in Islamabad. “This shows how monsoon rains have become erratic and unpredictable in timing, volume and intensity.”
Sherdil, head of the Punjab disaster management agency, said the heavy rains and flooding had caught them unprepared.
“We were closely following the weekly and monthly forecasts of PMD that never predicted heavy rains of unprecedented significance for July in northeastern parts, which have been nearly 40 percent above normal for the month,” he said.
It has been difficult to get aid into the affected areas due to damaged and flooded roads and bridges, he said. “Nevertheless, we left no stone unturned to get the emergency relief items including food, medicines, to the flood victims on boats – although (they arrived) a bit late,” he added.
In June 2012, scientists argued in the Nature Climate Change journal that global warming would make understanding changes in the South Asian monsoon more difficult.
They said the impacts of short- and long-term monsoon shifts would affect the lives of over a billion people in the region, who rely on rainfall for agriculture, hydropower generation, economic growth and basic human needs.
Understanding how the South Asian monsoon will alter due to climate change is necessary to cope with the effects, reduce the risk of disasters and safeguard people’s livelihoods, they underlined.
“Addressing the uncertainties in projected changes of the monsoon variability in coming years will remain a daunting challenge for climate scientists,” said Arshad Abbasi, a water and energy expert at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad.
Arshad Khan, the executive director of the Global Change Impact Study Centre (GCISC), the research arm of Pakistan’s Federal Climate Change Division, said the country is in the grip of unpredictable weather patterns.
Intense monsoon rains will be a common phenomenon, particularly on the country’s southern plains which lack water reservoirs and are highly vulnerable to floods, he warned.
And a spurt in the speed of glacial melt, due to rising global temperatures and above-normal monsoon rains, is likely to cause rivers to overflow and burst their banks across the country, he added.
Officials at the Climate Change Division, which operates under the oversight of the prime minister, said efforts are underway to tackle the vagaries of climate change across different sectors of the economy, particularly agriculture and water.
“Consultations are being made with national and provincial disaster management authorities, and officials of federal and provincial environment, agriculture, irrigation departments to implement national climate change policy to mitigate the impacts of changing weather patterns and erratic monsoon rains,” said a senior official, who coordinates policy at federal and provincial levels.
The Climate Change Division is developing climate adaptation plans for the agriculture, water and irrigation sectors, which will be implemented in Pakistan’s four provinces in collaboration with international NGOs and provincial government offices.
It is also working on programmes to ensure that climate change is considered in other sectors such as health and education, to make them more climate-resilient.
Abbasi of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute said the best ways to avert the growing threat of floods in Pakistan include efficient watershed management, reforestation in northern mountain areas and the revival of riverine forests.
Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are Islamabad-based journalists specialising in climate change and development issues.
Thomson Reuters Foundation – Wed, 22 May 2013 10:45 AM
JHIRPU PHULPINGKATTI, Nepal (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For years, Deepa Newar and her neighbours lived with the fear that their livelihoods – and even their lives – might be swept away without warning.
Newar and her fellow residents of Jhirpu Phulpingkatti, a village some 112 km (70 miles) northeast of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, live perched on the bank of the Bhote Koshi River. The river is prone to sudden, devastating floods that can swamp fields, carry away livestock and even kill those who do not manage to flee to higher ground.
The 2.5 acres (1 hectare) of land on which Newar cultivates paddy rice and maize have suffered severe flooding four times in the last 32 years, most recently in 2011.
Looking at the swirling grey waters of the river that flows into Nepal across the border with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, 10 km (6 miles) upstream, the 39-year-old recalls those disasters.
“(The river) left behind a trail of death and destruction whenever it has turned into a monster,” she says.
But Newar now enjoys a sense of safety for herself and her family, thanks to an early warning system for floods installed by the Bhote Koshi Power Company (BKPC) at its hydropower plant on the river.
GLACIAL LAKE THREAT
Flash floods can be caused by severe storms or the failure of levees, but the Bhote Khosi River is also susceptible to glacial lake outburst floods. These result from the catastrophic failure of a natural dam high in the mountains that contains glacial meltwater. Such failures are becoming a greater risk as warming temperatures linked to climate change lead to faster glacial melt and greater volumes of water in the lakes.
The Bhote Khosi river basin covers an area of about 3,400 square km (1,300 square miles) and has an estimated 150 glaciers. Of its 139 glacial lakes, whose area totals some 16 square km (6 square miles), 59 are highly vulnerable to outbursts, according to a study conducted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), an intergovernmental body of eight countries in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region, including Nepal and China.
In 1981, a glacial lake outburst flood in the river basin washed away several bridges, including the China-Nepal Friendship Bridge along the Araniko Highway, said Pradeep K. Mool, a glaciologist at ICIMOD in Kathmandu.
Until 2010, floods could strike the villages with no warning. Residents had virtually no time to move to higher ground and were forced to leave behind their livestock and crops, suffering financial losses as well as emotional distress.
“Before the advent of the warning system … we were at risk of being washed away,” said Newar.
Janak Raj Pant, maintenance manager at the Bhote Koshi power plant, said that the river is subject to erratic flows, particularly during the monsoon. For this reason, the power company arranged for the early warning system to be installed in 2010 to benefit the downstream communities in Sindhupalchowk district.
5 TO 8 MINUTES WARNING
The early warning system gives villagers 5-8 minutes’ notice of a flood – just enough time to save themselves.
Five flood sensors are positioned near the Nepal-China Friendship Bridge, about 6 km upstream from the power station.
If the water in the river reaches a dangerous level, the sensors activate sirens placed at four locations, including one at the power plant. The sirens warn the communities to flee to higher ground. Residents use their mobile phones to warn other villages further downstream.
According to Pant, a glacial lake outburst flood takes about five minutes to travel from the Nepal-China Friendship Bridge to the plant. He says lives can be saved if people respond to the alarm immediately.
“At present, the warning system can make the sirens blare five minutes before any flood can strike any of the 79 downstream villages of Sindhupalchowk district,” said Pant, standing beneath the red siren mounted on a side wall of the company’s building.
According to Pant, it is not currently possible to give more warning because information on flooding is not available from the Chinese side of the border.
About 40 percent of the Bhote Koshi river basin is in Nepal, with the remaining 60 percent in China.
Other residents of Jhirpu Phulpingkatti agree that the system has given them a sense of security, but they would like the lead time given by the alarm to be extended.
More sensors need to be placed further upstream within Nepal, especially at glacier snouts and where glacial lakes have formed or are forming, commented Joydeep Gupta, a New Delhi-based journalist and expert on South Asia river basins and flood warning systems.
NEED FOR CHINESE HELP
The ICIMOD study shows that Nepal has experienced at least 24 glacial lake outburst floods. Of these, 14 are believed to have occurred in Nepal itself, and 10 were the result of flood surge overspills from the Chinese side of the border. According to data from the Nepal Meteorological Department, such floods occur on average once every three years in Nepal.
The glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas are retreating, which scientists believe is the result of climate warming. As glaciers melt, the water released into lakes can build pressure on the natural dams and increase the risk of an outburst flood.
“We have already sought proposals from interested firms to expand the warning system to other vulnerable districts (near) the Bhote Koshi River,” said Pant. “It is hoped that in coming months we should be able to install alarm systems in as many districts as possible.”
“(The) Nepali government should also replicate and establish such early warning systems at all streams to (avoid) or reduce loss of lives or damage,” said Gupta.
But priority should be given to the streams emanating from the unstable glacier lakes identified by ICIMOD in its recent study, he emphasised. According to Gupta, China, as the upstream country, should collaborate with Nepal to share information about flash floods or glacial lake outburst floods hours before they reach the Nepali border, to allow maximum time for warnings to vulnerable downstream communities.
“Any viable information-sharing system by which Chinese officials can pre-inform their Nepali counterparts of any risk of flash flood or (glacial lake outburst flood) would be very helpful. A similar system between China and India already saved many lives in a flash flood in the Sutlej river area a few years ago,” he said.
Saleem Shaikh is a climate change and development reporter based in Islamabad.
It’s all about a story of river erosion. This story may or may not connect with climatic change but people believe it’s an after affect of melting of Himalayan Glacier. No matter this erosion factor connected with climate change or not (it’s a continuous debt) but people are suffering and that’s the only point I was trying to make. People of Sirajgonj district who are living just by the bank of Jamuna River, affected by the mighty river.
I tried to focus on the