Chitral’s vulnerabilities, and climate change

Chitral’s vulnerabilities, and climate change

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By: A.M. Khan

Climate Change is a major global problem. Greenhouse gas emissions and other consequences of human activities are driving the process of climate change, which may result in the average surface temperature rising by 3 degrees Celsius in this century, according to UN report.

Pakistan is one of the countries of the world which is considered to be more susceptible to the danger of natural calamities, triggered by shifts in weather patterns. Home to varied topographic features, from the heights of the Karakoram to the lows of the Indus Basin, Pakistan has various weather patterns, and vulnerabilities, with a history of major recent natural disasters, affecting vast majority of the nation’s population.

Out of 26 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, district Chitral has been mapped as the most vulnerable area, in terms of natural disasters. According to a report published last year, out of 582 glaciers located in the area, 182 are melting fast, and 20 glacial lakes have formed, which cause critical threats to human settlements and infrastructure, in the form of potential Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in some areas of the valley.

Chitral has had a harsh experience of GLOF hitting the famously beautiful Sonoghor village, as well as  devastating avalanche that hit Wasich in 2008. Later heavy floods in tehsil headquarter of upper Chitral, Buni,  was affedted by GLOF, along with Reshun. IN July and August of 2015, after heavy rainfall, flashflood and debris flow caused major destruction, badly affecting up to 100 villages in the district.

A study, titled “Chitral Floods 2015: Recovery Needs Assessment and Action Framework”, was carried out by Provincial Disaster Management Authority, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (PDMA,KP), which stated that flashfloods coupled with GLOFs of high and very high intensity caused life losses, intensive damages to public infrastructure, houses, and other buildings in district Chitral. The Damages Need Assessment (DNA) of PDMA established that the region will require approximately PKR 8,075.53 million (USD 77.167 million) for recovery and rehabilitation, and also proposed a recovery framework plan, for implementation within 24 months.

According to the PDMA study report, 10 powerhouses were damaged out of which 4.2 megawatt hydro-power station of Reshun was completely washed away. It left the upper Chitral in complete darkness and still people of the area are without electricity for two years. Last year, however, KP government provided solar systems for homes are luckily having some people in different villages of Chitral.

Rehabilitation work by public and private sector agencies started in the district afterwards to reconnect roads, bridges, water, and power supply systems. But, soon there was a major earthquake that caused widespread destruction, inflicting heavy losses on the community and government infrastructure.

The rehabilitation work has been progressing at snail pace, and the people are left in the lurch, unable to overcome the many challenges. Road accidents due to poor roads are an unfortunate routine in the district. Snow avalanches also kill many people every year. The vulnerabilities are immense, and not much has been done to mitigate the risks.

Climatologists warn that disappearance of glaciers, rising intensity of storms, and drop in yields, as harvest drops, has been seen in some parts of Chitral this year. The shift in seasonal rainfall has possibly influenced the temperature and seasonal patterns which have impacted even the small-scale subsistence farming.

It is also a matter of deep concern that some indigenous birds have and are becoming endangered. Some of the birds less seen in the area are locally named as Sholesi, Gharoi, Ishpaqeti, Dontotoq,Shatutur,Thorpichu, Kruirumi, Shaghechi, Pililesi and Chichibon. 

It has also been learnt from the Forest Department of Chitral that a new species of insects has emerged, eating in herd the deodar forest in Chitral National Gol Park. Unusual increase in the population and colonies of small ants has also become a worrisome situation.  Fall in the production of grapes, apricots and some other fruits may also be the likely impact of climate change in the area.


A study, “Farmers’ perception about the climate Change in Chitral”, was conducted in which farmers (mostly uneducated) indicated changing patterns of climate. The rise and decline of yields of some crops and fruits was also manifested. It shows that increasing frequency of climate extreme events contain a high risks for food security. This may be the case in district Chitral this year.

According to a research report, rising temperature has caused shortening of the Growing Season Length (GSL) for wheat crop in Swat and Chitral district during the winter season. This shortening of the GSL has a positive impact on wheat yield in the high-mountain areas, but this year it has also become contesting after poor harvest.

Different approaches have been used to study the nature and extent of climatic-related vulnerabilities and hazards. The technocratic approach toward natural hazards is capital and technology intensive, and places a low priority on the social factors that contribute to the differential vulnerability of population groups manifestly dominant in some areas of Chitral. The political economy and natural space of vulnerability helps locate vulnerable groups and regions within it. At macro-level the government even unable to locate susceptible population of Chitral in a secure place, and providing them basic facilities of safety measures in case of natural hazards. The rural people mostly prone to structural hazards have limited access to resilience building resources; therefore, they are quite vulnerable to environmental stress all the time.  They have their homes either on low-lying fringes or located on those areas which are face down to floods, avalanches and other natural hazards.

Holistic approach has become important now before planning for developmental and reconstruction work, dealing both with natural and structural vulnerabilities of rural people in different areas of Pakistan generally and Chitral particularly. Natural and structural vulnerabilities need to be carefully evaluated in Chitral so the public and private capital should not go to waste.

The writer is an M.Phil Research Scholar in the Department of Political Science , University of Peshawar.

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