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Climate change, cloud bursts and urban floodings: Are we prepared?

Recent floodings in Islamabad have once again made us realize the severity of climate change. In this regard, Amina Saeed talks about the recent cloud burst in Islamabad which caused immense damage in some parts of the city and what can be done in the future to fight the challenges that come with climate change crises.

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Various areas of Islamabad faced severe damages after a cloudburst that caused urban flooding in the Federal Capital of Pakistan. According to the meteorological department, some areas of Islamabad received up to 330mm of rain. Extremely affected areas being Sectors E-11, D-12, and the France Colony (F-7), with two killed in light of the unexpected flash flooding. Rightfully, residents question and turn towards the authorities.

Pakistan is rated among the top 10 most affected countries to climate change as per independent international assessments such as that by German Watch, an NGO based in Germany. While regional rainfall trends of South Asia in the summer monsoon months are well expected, increasing extreme events with catastrophic results have occurred over the last two decades including localized cloud bursts that caused major urban flooding of Lahore (1996), Islamabad (2001) and Karachi (2009). Hence, once again we wonder what more will it take for countries to be prepared in the future?

Read more: Private sector steps forward to help address the challenge of climate change in Pakistan

Understanding the severity

Cloudburst is a sudden, intense rain event, albeit it is not new for a country like Pakistan. Those rainstorms where there is a massive amount of precipitation that falls locally for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours can cause local and sometimes intense damaging flooding.

They may be unpredictable in nature but with a historical pattern of facing its’ massive consequences in the past, cities must be prepared in view of the rising threat of climate change. The impact of climate change is getting worse, and a glimpse of it can be seen with massive floods in various parts of the world, including Pakistan which has an increased vulnerability of monsoons.

Studies have shown that cities are particularly vulnerable to cloudburst and climate change is projected to increase their frequency and intensity. They have been incompetently dealt with conventional stormwater and flood management policies, but with such events becoming more frequent, cities will need to rapidly transform their stormwater drainage and interdependent systems, and the knowledge systems that guide their infrastructure decisions and policy.

From the global experts

As seen in the past, army troops have been deployed in Rawalpindi for the heavy rains that triggered a high flood in Nullah Lai, to assist the civil administration in rescue and relief efforts. For how long will the cities survive like this and address the damages? Urban ecologist Timon McPhearson in a recent study discussed how city planners in three of the most developed cities are working to mitigate floods, and stresses the necessity of knowledge-sharing between cities to advance global flood preparedness. He suggests the need to better understand current shifting weather patterns and future climate conditions that cause cloudbursts.

Read more: Pakistan proposes debt-for-nature scheme to combat debt, climate change

And, to pinpoint areas that are more vulnerable, either socially or in terms of sensitive or critical infrastructure. More solutions like green infrastructure to absorb storm rainwater and reduce flooding are also suggested. To tackle this alarming situation, experts have proposed an integrated approach called Urban Flood Resilience Model based on geographical information system for decision makers and planners to track community performance and integrate the aspect of resilience into urban flood management, development, and planning.

Studies show that Pakistan may learn from the Chinese experience on how to control urban flooding, especially in the monsoon season. Like Copenhagen, China has adopted green infrastructure by implementing the concept of a sponge city.

What can be done?

The recent Long-Term Global Climate Risk Index 2020 rated Pakistan as the fifth most affected country due to adverse impacts of climate change. Countries like Pakistan, prone to these threats and vulnerabilities require intensive urban planning; detailed short-term and long-term planning and concrete steps to tackle the mounting climate change problems.

Read more: Climate Change: A Serious Threat To World And Pakistan

Local communities and stakeholders need to be involved in city development planning processes, with education and raising awareness. Stormwater managers and resilience planners need to better understand and develop ways to reduce the impacts of cloudburst-driven flooding on infrastructure, people, and the economy. Moreover, governments, through successful partnerships with cities globally, can exchange knowledge and expertise over different management strategies and best practices to avoid pitfalls others have already encountered.

The author is a student of masters in development studies at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST). She can be reached at amina.96.saeed@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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