As climate risks grow, Pakistani Kashmir boosts emergency plans

Pakistani rescuers search for missing university students after a bridge collapsed at Kundal Shahi, Neelum district, in Pakistani Kashmir. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2018
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As climate risks grow, Pakistani Kashmir boosts emergency plans

  • A logistics plan on how to prepare for an emergency and deliver aid during floods, landslides
  • The new emergency response centers have their own wireless radio frequencies to more easily receive direct updates on floods, earthquakes and other disasters

When major floods hit Pakistan-controlled Kashmir in 2016, Jawad Hussain, a worker at the local government disaster agency, had to wait hours to receive updates on what kind of help was needed and where.

The delays meant families were left without aid for days, he said, as flooding forced thousands from their homes and left others injured or dead.

But Pakistan - one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change – is now trying to boost its ability to respond to disasters, including in the Kashmir region, which is prone to deadly floods, drought, landslides and earthquakes.

Last August, the government set up emergency response centres across the region, in part to speed the flow of information to the National Disaster Management Authority, a federal body that issues early warnings, organises rescue services, and distributes aid.
There have been no major disasters since the centres were set up, but Hussain is confident they will make a difference.

“We will be able to respond to any disaster in the state more quickly and efficiently,” the 29-year-old said, sitting in the operations room of the State Disaster Management Authority.

The new emergency response centres have their own wireless radio frequencies to more easily receive direct updates on floods, earthquakes and other disasters, he said.

That will "improve the capability to handle disasters more efficiently,” said Abdul Hameed Kiani, deputy commissioner of Jhelum valley district.

MORE DATA, MORE PLANS

Kashmir - like some other areas of the country - is also working on the ground to cut risks from natural disasters.

Last year, the World Bank lent Pakistan $125 million to restore flood protection infrastructure and strengthen government institutions to manage disasters and climate vulnerability across the country.

In Kashmir, the government has now carried out studies to determine the types of disasters each area faces, so that officials can better prepare, said Atiq-ur-Rehman Abbasi, project director of the Disaster and Climate Resilience Improvement Project in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

“Now we have exact data about each district, what kind of risk there is and how to cope with it,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A logistics plan on how to prepare for an emergency and deliver aid during floods, landslides or man-made disasters has been drawn up for every district and state, Abbasi said.

“Making hydro stations secure and stabilising slopes will benefit tens of thousands of people,” he added.

The project, for instance, has assessed the vulnerability of people living by a river in Kotli district, where part of a suburb washed away in 2014 river flooding, Abbasi said.

Sajjad Hashmi, a resident there, said river embankments destroyed in the flood have not yet been replaced.

“The river swept away the settlement on both its banks, so a protection embankment could be helpful. But it has not been assessed yet what kind of protection would be suitable,” said Hashmi, 54.

Raja Mushtaq Khan, a political activist and Kotli resident, said the city has been vulnerable to river flooding for decades, but there had been no concrete protection efforts taken by the government or non-governmental organisations, in part because of a lack of credible data on the threats.
Now, with a study in hand, "work can be outlined to save thousands of residents,” said Khan, 59.

FOREST PROTECTION

Asif Hussain Shah, head of Pakistani Kashmir's planning and development department, said establishing dedicated centres to monitor the impacts of a changing climate and develop ways for the region to adapt is a step in the right direction.

But the real test is whether other departments - such as the forestry department, charged with protecting the region's fast-disappearing trees - will be able to play their part, he said.

Protecting trees both helps limit climate change and can cut the risk of flooding, landslides and other problems as forested land absorbs more water and holds soil in place, he said.

For now, with the risk (of drought and floods) increasing every day ... we have to equip and prepare ourselves,” Shah said.

As weather patterns change, monsoon rains are shifting slowly toward the Neelum Valley, a tourist hotspot, Shah said. That knowledge will now aid preparations to cut risks in the area, he said.

Shafique Abbasi, deputy director of Kashmir's Environmental Protection Agency, said such data is hugely needed in a country that ranks seventh in the list of the 10 most climate change vulnerable countries in the world since 1997, according to the World Climate Risk Index 2018.

“We don’t have data on many things and these studies will pave the ways to adopt measures to mitigate climate change impacts,” Abbasi said.


Government will issue ‘debt instrument’ for Pakistani expats to finance dams

Updated 15 min 8 sec ago
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Government will issue ‘debt instrument’ for Pakistani expats to finance dams

  • ‘This will be the last IMF bailout package the country is seeking,’ claims Asad Umar
  • Pakistan’s current account deficit will likely remain around $1 billion

KARACHI: Pakistani Finance Minister Asad Umar said on Saturday that the government will introduce a “debt instrument” for Pakistanis living overseas in order to secure financing for the construction of a number of dams. 
“We are planning to issue a debt instrument for overseas Pakistanis, on which we will offer them good returns,” he said during a speech to the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI). He did not elaborate.
Facing a water and power shortage, Pakistan is currently seeking donations to build dams in Diamer-Basha and Mohmand and has set up a fund for that purpose. Prime Minister Imran Khan has already asked expat Pakistanis to donate $1000 each to the Dam Fund established by the chief justice of Pakistan.
Umar also explained that the government was taking steps to increase the investment opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which currently contribute 30 percent of the country’s GDP. 
“We are asking banks to increase SME financing by reducing their cash-to-deposit ratio from the existing 37 percent to 25 percent,” he said. “By doing this, two trillion rupees of credit will be available for financing purposes. People keep asking how we will finance our housing project. This is how.”
Pakistan is currently facing serious economic challenges. According to the central bank, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves stand at $8.08 billion and its current-account deficit for July-August was $2.7 billion.
However, the minister told the business community that the government was reshaping the country’s foreign policy by focusing more on its economy. “The ministries of finance, commerce and foreign affairs are working closely to make Pakistan self-reliant and economically secure,” Umar said.
He noted that oil products make up around 30 percent of the country’s $60 billion imports, so the government is currently encouraging domestic oil exploration.
Earlier, speaking about the International Monetary Fund bailout program at an event organized by the Pakistan Stock Exchange, the finance minister said that the government had approached the IMF for the last time. 
“This will be the last IMF program Pakistan is seeking,” he claimed.
Pakistan approached the IMF last week for a bailout program to stabilize the country’s external balance-of-payments crisis. Last year, the country faced a current-account deficit of $18 billion and is currently struggling with depleted foreign-exchange reserves.
Pakistan needs $12 billion to plug the financing gap for the current year and, Umar said that gap would be reduced by “adding one time.”
He stressed that Pakistan’s current-account deficit was easing, saying it had “almost halved” in the August-September period to around $1 billion, as imports had gone down and exports had surged.
The finance minister assured his audience that the country’s “painful economic days” would end “in three years,” claiming that “the third year will be the break-even time since all the indicators are moving in the right direction.”
Umar reiterated that the country was not in emergency mode, contrary to what was being said in the media.
He assured his audience that the government would find solutions for the real price valuation of properties in the country for greater transparency and stressed that the government was working to make it easier to do business in Pakistan. 
“The council of business leaders is tasked to come up with suggestions to improve the country’s ranking from 147 to under 100 (in the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ report),” he added.