Unite in the First Mile to Reach the Last Mile- Early Warning System for Pakistan

Early-warning is essential in almost all disaster events as it assists in preventing death, injury and damage to property. In case of disasters like Tsunami, early warning is the major tool for saving life and properties. The legal and regulatory body for early warning in Pakistan involves Pakistan Meteorological Agency, Seismology unit in Ministry of Energy and Minerals, Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security in coordination with other departments and bodies. The non-governmental early warning systems include the Famine Early Warning System Network. The early warning staffs of emergency management requires adequate training of utilizing early warning and dissemination of information in a timely fashion to curtail the losses from various onset of disasters.

One of the major constraints of early warning system in Pakistan is a lack of consolidated website through which a database or information regarding the disasters could be disseminated. Other constraints include lack of finances and infrastructural facilities such as installing a nation-wide disaster communication system.

Table 2: Hazards and its EWS indicators for Pakistan

Hazards Causes Early warning indicators
Floods • sudden increase in

precipitation

• overflowing rivers and

streams

• blocked water ways

El Niño periods

• prolonged, high-intensity rainfall

• violent thunderstorms of short duration causing flash floods

Landslides • sudden increase in

precipitation

• deforestation of

vegetation cover

El Niño periods

•prolonged, high-intensity rainfall

• human settlement on sloping areas, poor land use and management practices

Drought • extended dry spell

• high temperatures

• deficiency in rainfall

• signs of food insecurity

• lack of groundwater

La Niña events

Internal conflict • economic hardships-inflation

and unemployment

• political differences

• increased insecurity

• violation of human rights

• mass movement of people from key areas

Conflict • elections

• ethnic conflict

 

• ethnic clashes

• mass movement of people into Pakistan

 

Although community-based drought and flood early warning systems have been established in certain priority areas, there is currently little coordination between the existing, decentralised early warning systems. There are also many gaps in the existing community-based networks established, in terms of geographic coverage as most are focused in the sub-region, as well as hazard specificity (many are only focused on either drought or flood and do not consider multiple hazards in one alert system).

 

1. Flood Early Warning System

Floods result from prolonged, high intensity rainfall in general. Violent thundershowers which are of short duration produce flash floods. Flash floods are common in areas which experience heavy thunderstorms,

The country experiences two annual rainfall maxima between March to May and September to November. In the drier parts of the country, rainfall between the two maxima is not strikingly different, thereby producing a uni-modal type of distribution. These parts of the country are characterised by one long dry season followed by one long wet season. In the rest of the country, rainfall has a bi-modal (twin-peaked) pattern with a pronounced dry season between the two rainfall maxima.

The rains led to sharp rises in lake levels, widespread flooding, washing away of roads and bridges, extensive soil erosion and landslides. While rainfall in some years was far short of longterm means thereby causing droughts, in other years it was excessive and produced catastrophic floods. During an El Nino year, chances of intense flood level rains are increased during the period October to December over most parts of the country. The intense flood level rains are reflected in increased incidences of intense lightning and thunderstorms, hailstorms and windstorms/gusty winds.

Flooding occurs when water levels rise above the level associated with the beginning of damage and disruption. Generally, danger level at a river location is the level above which it is likely that the flood may cause damages to nearby crops and homesteads. In a river having no embankment, danger level is about annual average flood level. In an embanked river, danger level is fixed slightly below design flood level of the embankment. Table 3 shows the flood affected area in Pakistan.

Table 3: Flood intensity and affected areas

Geographical area Intensity Seasonality Secondary effects
Areas around Islamabad Minor flash floods July to November Hailstorms, cholera

outbreaks

Low-lying areas around Indus Basin Major July to November Landslides, epidemics,

food insecurity

Low-lying areas of the

Punjab and Sindh

Major July to November Landslides, epidemics,

food insecurity

Peshawar and

surrounding areas

Major July to November Landslides, drought
Lahore Minor flash floods July to November Cholera outbreaks

 

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the Pakistan Communication Commission (UCC) is implementing a project named ‘Natural Disaster Early Warning System Pilot in Pakistan’ which will design and deploy a pilot SMS-based public alert system to assist authorities with the dissemination of early flood warnings and climate information to targeted communities in the eastern region, in particular the Indus basin sub-region of Pakistan.

Pakistan Red Cross Society (URCS) programme works on community-based flood warning systems focused in the Indus basin sub-regions. Basic river gauges have been installed in the Indus basin region and are read by trained community members. When river level rises beyond a critical threshold height, warnings of impending flood are disseminated to local communities. These warnings are typically delivered by individuals on bicycles riding from house to house. In some areas, warnings are communicated with drums. Communities have been trained to use the refuges and evacuation routes established by the URCS programme. One shortcoming of these early warning mechanisms is that during extreme rainfall events, when monitoring is most critical, people are typically indoors avoiding the rain.

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