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19 Jan 2018 | Water

Pakistan Government Credits CBFEWS for Zero Loss of Human and Animal Lives in Sherqilla Floods

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On 3 August 2017, in the pre-dawn hours of 4:30 am, the community-based flood early warning systems (CBFEWS) at Sherqilla generated a flood warning activating a siren that woke the residents of 350 households from deep sleep. The community got a whole hour to evacuate to higher ground with their livestock and precious belongings before the flash flood could reach the most upstream part of village. If caught unawares, many of them would likely have been swept away. As a result of the CBFEWS and immediate community action based on the warning generated, there were no human or animal casualties, and only two houses and a canal were damaged.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has acknowledged the efficiency of the system in Gilgit-Baltistan, and attributed it to having safeguarded this vulnerable community constantly battling the elements in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. Communities appreciate and have taken ownership of the CBFEWS, saying the system puts them at more ease with nature. In comparison, a similar flood in 2016 swept away six livestock and six households, and destroyed 250 acres of cropland and some 600 fruit and wild trees.

Gilgit-Baltistan is home to 12 of the world’s 30 tallest mountain peaks. The fragile ecosystem means that around 46% of the population in the region’s 250 villages is at risk from a range of snow-, ice-, water-, and landslide- related natural disasters. Natural disasters hinder development efforts, putting already vulnerable communities at risk, and damaging infrastructure and basic services. Timely warning can, however, save precious lives and safeguard investments.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)’s Indus Basin Initiative (IBI) is implementing the “Agricultural Water, Energy and Hazard Management in the Upper Indus Basin for Improved Livelihood in Gilgit Pakistan” project with support from the Government of Australia through the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio. With partners WWF-Pakistan, the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GBDMA), and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, the project aims to alleviate community vulnerability and strengthen livelihoods through water management for agriculture and water induced hazard management.

As part of this effort the project piloted a CBFEWS in two villages in Punial Valley of Ghizer District, Gilgit-Baltistan—Sherqilla and Dammas. The system in Sherqilla disseminates flash flood warning, while the one in Dammas disseminates debris flow warning. Both are the first of their kind in Gilgit Baltistan.

CBFEWS is an integrated system of tools and plans to detect and respond to flood emergencies that are managed by communities. The CBFEWS developed by ICIMOD is based on a simple instrument installed upstream to detect either floods or debris flow depending on the equipment used. The instrument automatically generates flood signals that are relayed to downstream communities. To be effective, CBFEWS should be based on four elements: risk knowledge and scoping, community based monitoring and early warning, dissemination and communication and response capability and resilience.

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