Chitral valley, located in the northwest of Pakistan, is a mountainous region that is home to half a million people. The valley is known for its scenic beauty, cultural diversity and rich biodiversity. However, it is also one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change and natural disasters, especially floods.
Causes of Floods in Chitral
Floods are a recurrent phenomenon in Chitral, but their intensity and frequency have increased in recent years due to various factors. Some of the main causes of floods in Chitral are:
- Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs): These are sudden releases of water stored either within a glacier or dammed by a glacier. GLOFs occur when glaciers melt due to rising temperatures or when ice dams collapse due to seismic activity or erosion. GLOFs can unleash huge volumes of water and debris that can devastate downstream areas. Chitral has more than 500 glaciers and many glacial lakes that pose a threat of GLOFs.
- Flash floods: These are rapid and localized floods that occur due to heavy rainfall, snowmelt or landslides. Flash floods can cause severe damage to infrastructure, crops and lives in a short span of time. Chitral receives heavy monsoon rains from July to September that can trigger flash floods in the Chitral river and its tributaries.
- Human activities: Human interventions such as deforestation, road construction, mining and urbanization can also contribute to flooding by altering the natural drainage system, increasing soil erosion and reducing the capacity of the land to absorb water. For example, the construction of the Chitral-Mastuj road has been blamed for dumping road-cutting debris into the Chitral river, which has increased the risk of flooding.
- Rare matriarchal society of Kalash valley, Pakistan
- Climate Change and Mental Health: The Overlooked Connection
Impacts of Floods in Chitral valley
Floods have caused unprecedented devastation in Chitral, affecting hundreds of thousands of people and destroying their livelihoods and assets. Some of the impacts of floods in Chitral are:
- Loss of lives and property: Floods have claimed several lives and injured many others in Chitral. Floods have also washed away houses, bridges, roads, power stations, water systems and other infrastructure, leaving many people homeless, stranded and without basic services. According to official estimates, more than 250,000 people were cut off from the rest of the country due to floods in July 20231. In some areas, flood water reached the first floor of buildings.
- Damage to agriculture and environment: Floods have also damaged crops, orchards, pastures and forests in Chitral, affecting the food security and income of farmers and herders. Floods have also eroded fertile soil, polluted water sources and disrupted ecosystems. The loss of biodiversity and natural resources can have long-term consequences for the environment and human well-being.
- Humanitarian crisis: Floods have created a humanitarian crisis in Chitral, as many people are in need of food, water, medicine, shelter and other relief items. The lack of communication, transportation and electricity has hampered the delivery of aid and assistance to the affected areas. The floods have also increased the risk of diseases, malnutrition and psychological stress among the affected population.
Solutions for Flood Management in Chitral valley
Flood management is a complex and multi-dimensional challenge that requires coordinated efforts from various stakeholders at different levels. Some of the possible solutions for flood management in Chitral are:
- Early warning systems: Early warning systems can help reduce the loss of lives and property by alerting people about impending floods and enabling them to take preventive measures or evacuate to safer places. Early warning systems can include weather forecasting, hydrological monitoring, hazard mapping, risk assessment and dissemination of information through media or community networks.
- Structural measures: Structural measures can help control or divert flood water by building dams, embankments, spillways, channels or barriers. Structural measures can also include improving or restoring infrastructure such as roads, bridges, power stations and water systems that are essential for service delivery and disaster response.
- Non-structural measures: Non-structural measures can help reduce the exposure or vulnerability of people and assets to floods by adopting policies, plans or practices that enhance resilience and adaptation. Non-structural measures can include promoting afforestation, watershed management, land use planning, disaster preparedness, community participation, awareness raising and capacity building.
What Officials say
“The devastation caused by the floods in Pakistan is overwhelming. UNDP is working closely with the Government and partners to assess the damage,” highlighted Mr Knut Ostby1, UNDP Resident Representative who visited Chitral to identify recovery needs.
“This year’s monsoon season has been particularly devastating for the people of Chitral. We are doing our best to provide relief and rehabilitation to the affected communities, but we also need more support from the national and international donors,” said Mr Ameenul Haq2, Deputy Commissioner of Chitral.
“Chitral is a hotspot of climate change and disaster risk. We need to invest more in building the resilience and adaptation capacity of the local people and institutions, as well as in developing sustainable and eco-friendly solutions for development,” said Dr Ghulam Rasul3, Director General of Pakistan Meteorological Department.
Chitral valley is a region at risk of floods that can cause widespread destruction and suffering. Floods are caused by various natural and human factors that need to be addressed through comprehensive and integrated approaches. Flood management is a shared responsibility that requires collaboration among government agencies, civil society organizations, private sector actors and local communities.