By Ahsan Jamil
Globally, millions of structural and non-structural losses are incurred due to natural disasters triggered by variety of reasons and competent authorities of respective countries are compelled to spend a huge proportion of their economy in lieu of disaster reduction activities to minimize the threshold of impacts of those disasters whether those are in form of earthquakes, tropical cyclones, air pollution induced hazards, landslides, floods, climate change, drought, dust storms, forest fires, locusts, oil-spills, depletion of glaciers due to rising temperatures etc.
Pakistan is home to natural disasters and their frequency has risen remarkably over the past few years. Diverse climatic conditions and topography contrasts throughout the geographic extent of the country makes it hard to augment a generalized plan to combat with the disaster challenges. The diversity in climatic conditions on one hand is blessing as it offers immense agricultural wealth to nurture.
According to a disaster report on disaster overview in year 2015 by Government of Pakistan, “The year 2015 was significant in terms of repeated natural disasters which struck different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, affecting a large number of people and causing substantial damage to public and private infrastructure”.
The report further tells that the Mini-Cyclone on 26th April, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) and flash floods in July-August, a massive earthquake on 26th October followed by earthquakes in November and December, caused 232 deaths and inflicted grievous injuries to many people. Around 98,000 housing units were either fully or partially destroyed.
Zahid Rafi, Director, National Centre for Seismic Monitoring, Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) told in a TV interview that continuously energy is released from subsurface in the HKH region and the average magnitude of shakings caused by that energy release is found to be 4.5 on richter scale. However, over 7.5 magnitude earthquakes frequency is scarce in terms of temporal reference. He was referring to the earthquake that shook the region on October 26, 2015 and colossal losses were followed by it.
Zahid, however, was skeptical about connecting earthquakes to the climate change phenomenon and told that there was no substantial evidence of it so far.
The matter of fact is that low shakings causing low or no damages are considered as harmless by civic authorities throughout the country. However, the minor shakings can also trigger heavy landslides and alas no authority pay heeds to this concern in Pakistan and hardly any prominent research is underway on earthquake triggered landslides in Pakistan.
The study was conducted in context to Nepal earthquake last year, killing roughly 9,000 people, in which satellite imagery of disaster zone was used to map almost 4,312 landslides that occurred both during the quake and its aftermath between 25 April and 10 June.
According to news published in Scidev.net, based on the available data, scientists were able to evaluate the geomorphic, tectonic, and lithologic controls on earthquake-induced landslides during the period, especially in areas where the landslides affected local populations.
The cautiousness of using innovative and sophisticated remote sensing and GIS technology is also one of the main reasons why Pakistan lags behind in terms of quickly responding to a disaster and also in backing policy makers and other stakeholders for rehabilitation, mitigation activities. In addition, geospatial intelligence could be used effectively to devise a long term plan for disaster risk reduction.
Similarly, floods have devastated various cities of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in past few years due to lack of a reliable flood information system and inadequate data, less time for preparedness, evacuation etc the number of losses hikes to manifolds. The erratic rainfall pattern is attributed towards global warming and anthropogenic activities such as fossil fuel burning. This unusual precipitation pattern is a serious threat as various rain water fed natural stream can erupt due to overflow of water.
Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) has however set an example by supporting provincial government for establishing an online portal for real time flood monitoring. The system not only keeps a track of the latest flood development but also keeps the concerned departments informed and in close collaboration; which further assists in managing the disaster in the shortest possible time span.
A Nepal based organization focusing on mountain areas development especially HKH region, ICIMOD has pointed out that number of glacial lakes in Gilgit Baltistan (GB) – northest province of Pakistan – has touched to around 3,000 and it poses great risk to the communities, agriculture, and infrastructure of GB because glacial lakes outburst flooding (GLOF) events could also rise.
Therefore, a great deal of homework has to be done to protect those mountain communities and strengthen their capacity to cope up with the vagaries of these climate change triggered natural disasters.
Another important observation is that Pakistan has a sloppy terrain and anything that happens in North of the country impacts on southern part of the country. This was apprised by Malik Amin Aslam Khan, Global Vice President, International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), during a session held last year on climate change impacts. He stressed on need of growing more and more trees in order to reduce the negative impacts of greenhouse gases (GHGs) especially carbon di oxide increasing amounts.
The bad air quality due to uncontrolled emissions of pollutants and urbanization not in compliance with environment, transport and energy sector releasing high amounts of noxious greenhouse gases in atmosphere has also become a major threat over the years causing bad health of citizens and increase in admissions of lung diseases in hospitals. The air pollution is one hazard that has both natural and anthropogenic causes, with later having most of the responsibility on its shoulders.
Air pollution has a human dimension and many dents are caused to economy of countries of world and in particular to those of South-Asia due to it. To fix it, regional collaboration is must for information exchange and to defy the spatial and non-spatial limitations in obtaining the data on air quality by introducing innovative techniques including using drones for air quality monitoring as well as using satellite data for continuous check on the air we breathe.
According to NASA- United States space agency- research findings, the United States, Europe and Japan have improved air quality courtesy to emission control regulations, while China, India and the Middle East, with their fast-growing economies and expanding industry, have seen more air pollution.
Using new, high-resolution global satellite maps of air quality indicators, NASA scientists tracked air pollution trends over the last decade in various regions and 195 cities around the globe. The findings were presented on Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
The latest news confirms that NASA has selected two proposals for new Earth science investigations, including one from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, that will put new instruments in low-Earth orbit to track harmful particulate air pollutants and study the development of tropical cyclones.
Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) will be correlated with the health information to determine the toxicity of different particulate matter types in airborne pollutants over the world’s major cities.
Similar sort of innovations in developing new methods to properly assess the impact of pollutants is the foremost need of the hour and all the stakeholders including government, environmental agencies must be on same page and strengthen regional collaboration for synergic solutions and diffusing the air pollution challenge from all directions and dimensions.
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