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Friday / October 19.

Troubled waters: Pakistan urged to upgrade flood warning system

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has been urged to upgrade its meteorological technology and
share information with neighboring countries, including India, to reduce the damage
caused by floods.
An estimated 715,000 people in Pakistan are affected by floods each year, with an annual
loss of almost 1 percent to the country’s gross domestic product. A report by World
Resources Institute, a US think tank, suggests that up to 2.7 million people a year could
be affected by river floods in Pakistan by 2030, with an annual economic loss of about
$1.7 billion.
Five of the seven weather-forecast radars installed in different cities in 1990 have
completed their average working lifespan, Dr. Ghulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the
Pakistan Meteorological Department, told Arab News.
“We have 17-year- old radar technology and this needs to be replaced with the latest one
at the earliest if the country is to effectively deal with natural disasters like floods,
tsunamis and cyclones,” he said.
There are 97 observatories and weather stations in Pakistan, but the country needs about
150 more and 13 additional radars to strengthen the early-warning system, Rahul said.
He admitted that upgrading the early-warning system had never been a priority of
successive governments, which was why Pakistan suffered losses of $10 billion in the
devastating 2010 floods alone.
Upgrading and installing new equipment would cost at least Rs20 billion ($200 million),
but the government allocated only Rs100 million in the budget for the current fiscal year,
he said.
The Planning Commission is reviewing the plan to strengthen the early-warning system,
but it would take at least three years to install all the necessary equipment, Rahul said.
Muhammad Tariq, former regional chair at the Global Water Partnership South Asia, said
the government should increase water storage capacity from the current 7 percent of total
average flow of its rivers to at least 40 percent to reduce intensity and loss caused by the
“People should be informed at least 24 hours in advance about looming disasters like
floods and cyclones to prevent losses of life and property,” he said.
Ahmed Kamal, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority and chairman
of the Federal Flood Commission, said Pakistan could not effectively cope with floods
until it improved its climate and disaster governance.
“Medium and long-range weather forecasts can help deal with floods to a certain extent
only, as there is a limitation to accurate interpretation of the meteorological data,” he
Kamal also pointed out that forecasting centers could not obtain accurate and timely
information about river flows until the latest gauging system was installed to keep a
check on rainfall and water flow in the rivers.
To overcome the problem, the Pakistan Meteorological Department has been wooing
international donors and friendly countries for their technical and financial support to
upgrade its system.
The Japanese government and UNESCO recently agreed to initiate a $4 million project to
improve Pakistan’s flood warning and management capacity. It will take about two years
to install the latest technology at the PMD’s Islamabad and Karachi stations and improve
medium-range weather forecasting.

via AN