Pakistan: Before the flood

In 2010, fierce floodwaters poured down mountainsides, engulfing tiny villages dotted around Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in Pakistan’s mountainous north. Nearly 2,000 people died and 1.6 million homes were destroyed.

Such sudden, catastrophic floods are expected to become more frequent as climate change takes hold. They are caused by heavy rains and glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF), which occurs when high temperatures cause glaciers to melt, creating lakes which can suddenly burst. Germanwatch ranked Pakistan third among countries most affected by extreme weather events in 2012 in the Global Climate Risk Index (2014). Over 3,000 glacial lakes have appeared with rising temperatures, of which 33 are considered prone to GLOF, putting over 7.1 million people at risk.

The scale of devastation GLOF can cause is well known, but there are no early-warning systems to alert communities or disaster management and preparedness plans. Erosion by deforestation exacerbates the risks and safety infrastructure such as protective walls and spillways are largely lacking.

The Ministry of Climate Change and provincial governments are planning to establish early-warning systems and implement small-scale infrastructure projects in 12 vulnerable districts of KP and GB. This initiative is being funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF)—a mechanism designed to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change—and supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The project will also help ensure that decision-makers possess the technical skills and knowledge required to integrate climate change and disaster management into medium- and long-term development planning.

The project will enhance communities’ ability to plan for and mitigate climate change-related risks through a revolving fund for community-based disaster risk management and the promotion of climate-resilient land and water management techniques.

The initiative builds on a pilot project financed by the Adaptation Fund (AF) and supported by UNDP. It established early-warning and mitigation measures in two vulnerable valleys in KP and GB. Measures independently evaluated as “extremely beneficial” are now being expanded to cover 99 percent of Pakistan’s glaciated areas. These include weather stations, rain gauges, discharge equipment, gabion walls to protect against landslides, and training and mobilization for rapid and effective response.

The expansion of the original pilot project will be funded by a US$ 37 million grant from GCF. The project will begin in March 2017 and run over five years. It is expected to ultimately benefit about 29 million people, helping reduce the human impacts of such catastrophic floods and ensuring that communities in even the most remote areas are assisted in developing protection measures against climate change.