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Deadly floods, torrential rain hammer Pakistan

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Children sit among the rubble of their house in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Children sit among the rubble of their house in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Torrential rain and floods in usually dry regions of South Asia are continuing to kill hundreds, maroon thousands and destroy the homes and livelihoods of many hundreds of thousands. The situation in northern Pakistan and adjoining Afghanistan is very serious.

The UN News wire has reported that with monsoon rains expected to continue pummeling Pakistan for several more weeks, the United Nations warned today that the country’s south could also be affected by deadly flooding, which has already affected millions of people. Martin Mogwanja, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, told reporters that the devastation wrought by the current flooding is on par with that caused by the earthquake that struck the country in 2005.

Damage Overview of Flood-Affected Towns In Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. This map presents the preliminary findings of a damage assessment over sixteen flood-affected towns and cities along the Kabul and Kalpani Rivers including the main city of Nowshera, Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. UNOSAT

Damage Overview of Flood-Affected Towns In Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. This map presents the preliminary findings of a damage assessment over sixteen flood-affected towns and cities along the Kabul and Kalpani Rivers including the main city of Nowshera, Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. UNOSAT

He said that the floods – the worst in Pakistan in living memory – have affected 4 million people so far, with at least 1.5 million people having lost their homes. Mr. Mogwanja said that 1,400 people have been killed so far, “but this number may rise as new bodies may be found.” The monsoon season, he pointed out, could last up to four more weeks, with the possibility that the flooding – currently concentrated in northern Pakistan – could move south towards the Indian Ocean, affecting millions more people. Already, the central areas of Sindh province in the south have felt the effects of flooding.

The search-and-rescue and evacuation phase has come to an end, with many people having been moved to safer areas by helicopters and boats. UN agencies have been rushing relief to the area since the early days of the disaster. The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided 500 metric tons of food, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has distributed enough clean drinking water for 700,000 people. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has supplied 11,000 tents and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has distributed dozens of cholera kits for health centres.

The Hindu of India has reported that the death toll in the Leh cloudburst has climbed to 130, with 600 more people feared washed away in the calamity that was followed by torrential rains and flash floods devastating this Himalayan town in the Ladakh region. Sources in Ladakh, of which Leh is the district headquarters, fear that the death toll could cross over 500 as several far flung villages were yet to be accessed by rescue teams in this high-altitude terrain. Ladakh is a high mountainous region in northern India, in the western Himalaya. A small village before Choglumsur, which bore the brunt of the incessant rains, was completely wiped out as rescue workers were looking for survivors in the mud slush and debris. Over 200 people were still reported to be missing from the village.

Updated Overview of Flood Waters in Punjab Province, Pakistan. This map presents the standing flood waters over the affected Provinces of Punjab, Pakistan following recent heavy monsoon rains. UNOSAT

Updated Overview of Flood Waters in Punjab Province, Pakistan. This map presents the standing flood waters over the affected Provinces of Punjab, Pakistan following recent heavy monsoon rains. UNOSAT

The United Nations health agency said today that it has begun sending medical supplies to aid thousands of people affected by recent flooding across Afghanistan, where the major health concerns right now are water contamination and the spread of waterborne diseases. The Afghan government estimates that the floods have left several thousand individuals homeless in northeast Kapisa, central Ghazni, Laghman, Nangarhar, Kunar, Logar, Khost and northern Parwan provinces, where at least 2,500 houses have been destroyed. An estimated 80 people have reportedly died in the floods, and much of the arable land, where crops were planted, has been inundated.

Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported that news coming in from many parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, especially Swat because of its mountainous terrain, describes people displaced by the floods being desperately short of food, medicines, drinking water and other supplies essential to their survival. There is talk of starvation with no food available and international relief agencies are also warning of outbreak of diseases in the relief camps-mainly because clean drinking water and sanitation facilities are in short supply. In other parts of the flood-stricken region there are accounts of disease breaking out. Things could become worse in the coming days if the relief effort is not quickly streamlined. In Swat, many of those hit have already withstood many months of conflict. This Reuters AlertNet news feature describes the situation.

Russia wildfiresThe unfolding tragedy in Pakistan and Afghanistan comes alongside extreme weather events in Moldova, China and Russia. In Moldova, authorities have been evacuating people and goods from the flood-hit zones and to carry out prevention works. Xinhua News reported that in China, more than 4 million people have been affected since the flood season began in June and some 700,000 people have been evacuated. Additionally, about 62,000 houses have collapsed and 193,000 others have been damaged, along with 1.2 million hectares of cropland having been inundated. In the hardest-hit areas, flash floods have cut roads, isolated villages, and disrupted communications and water supplies. In the industrial city of Tonghua, torrential rains have damaged water pipelines, leaving 300,000 people without tap water for two days. The Voice of Russia has reported that wildfires are still burning in a number of Russian regions, including Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Voronezh and Ryazan. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and the air is thick for smog. Dozens of people have been killed by fires.

[The maps from which these images have been posted are from UNOSAT, the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme, implemented in co-operation with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).]

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Can you read this map Mr Ramesh?

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Surface temperature change map

This map shows the 10-year average (2000-2009) temperature anomaly relative to the 1951-1980 mean. The largest temperature increases are in the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula. (Image credit: NASA/GISS)

Scientific jingoism has reached a new peak with India’s minister for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, announcing that his ministry will provide new funding for climate research done by Indians for India, which in effect is a nationalistic science agenda. Ramesh – whose penchant for making sweeping and irresponsible statements is matched only by his ability to reckon all events as PR opportunities – seems to not realise or not care that climate change is not a region-specific phenomenon. His ministry’s carefully timed attacks on climate science has reached a new pitch with India’s mainstream english dailies now broadcasting a daily barrage of reports sceptical of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Fourth Assessment Report and on what Ramesh is now calling “western science”!

There has been evidence aplenty of the growing impacts of climate change throughout this decade of 2000-2009 and this evidence has been seen, and reported on, as affecting all sectors so important to our daily lives: agriculture, water resources and health. This month alone, there are two news reports on AlertNet Reuters that tell us so explicitly.

‘India’s northern nomads hit by changing weather’ tells us about how the nomads of the high Ladakh mountain ranges (in the state of Jammu and Kashmir) have been herding sheep, goats and yak for generations. But now hundreds are now being forced to abandon their traditional way of life as wide variations in winter snowfall threaten their livestock. Researchers in the region say that climate change is alternately bringing unusually heavy snow that prevents livestock from reaching fodder and, more often, very little snow, which leads to drought and changes in traditional pastures. A researcher with the World Wildlife Fund based in Leh said that grasses have started to die out due to less level of snowfall in the region, a continuing phenomenon for a decade or so, which now has become alarming.

Surface temperature change map India

Surface temperature change map India

‘Cold wave kills scores, destroys crops across South Asia’ tells us about a cold wave across parts of South Asia has killed scores of people – mostly children and the elderly – in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, both bordering Nepal, as well as New Delhi have been amongst the worst affected areas with temperatures falling as low as 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). In Bangladesh, low temperatures coupled with fog and cold winds in northern and southwest parts of the country have killed over 40 people and resulted in over 3,400 being hospitalised, according to the United Nations. In Nepal, weather officials said the southern plains bordering India were reeling below normal temperatures for more than two weeks causing cold waves in the region.

Global land ocean temperature index

Earth's surface temperatures have increased since 1880. The last decade has brought the temperatures to the highest levels ever recorded. The graph shows global annual surface temperatures relative to 1951-1980 mean temperatures. As shown by the red line, long-term trends are more apparent when temperatures are averaged over a five year period. (Image credit: NASA/GISS)

Reports such as these only support what careful research has been saying loudly for all the last decade. 2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record, a new NASA analysis of global surface temperature shows. The analysis, conducted by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), USA, also shows that in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880. January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record. Throughout the last three decades, the GISS surface temperature record shows an upward trend of about 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade. Since 1880, the year that modern scientific instrumentation became available to monitor temperatures precisely, a clear warming trend is present, though there was a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s. What’s significant about the GISS method is that it builds in the importance of anomalies – such as the severe cold weather in South Asia – to arrive at its findings.

The image of a map with this post is one that can be generated by anyone visiting the GISS website. It shows the planet’s surface temperature change from 1959 to 2009. Where India is concerend, the two temperature change bands that cover the sub-continent are 0.5-1ºC and 1-2ºC. It’s plain to see that the Himalaya also lie across both these temperature change bands. The absurd, ill-timed, motivated and arrogant attack by Ramesh’s ministry (and its media servants) on the evidence that glaciers in the Himalaya are in danger of melting ignores the big picture that this map presents: climate change is taking place in the region. The question is: can they read this map?