Have Deadly Monsoon Floods Replenished Groundwater to End Long Drought in Pakistan?

Pakistan has seen unprecedented rains followed by massive floods in the current monsoon season. Hundreds of people have lost their lives and tens of thousands have been rendered homeless. After the unfolding of the tragedy, it's now time for renewal. New green shoots are sprouting in Thar desert, indicating the end of the long-running drought in Pakistan. The large Indus Basin aquifer has been significantly recharged. Groundwater has been replenished to a large extent for many years to come, raising hopes for more water for growing crops and raising livestock.  

Sunset in Lush Green Thar Desert After Monsoon 2022. Credit: Emmanuel Guddu
Greening of Thar Desert in Sindh, Pakistan. Source: Emmanuel Guddu


The heavy monsoon rains will help to kick-start the sowing of major Kharif (autumn) crops including rice, cotton, sugarcane and corn after about a month's delay.  “There was 40% less water available for the Kharif season (during May-June 2022),” an official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research said while talking to The Express Tribune on Saturday. Earlier in March this year, Pakistan's Federal Committee on Agriculture (FCA) had said “for the Kharif year 2022, the water availability in canals head will be 65.84 million acre feet (MAF) against last year’s 65.08 MAF”. Recent rains have helped fill up major water reservoirs across the country.  About 150,000 cubic feet per second of water is being released from Pakistan's largest Tarbela dam which is more than the combined irrigation needs of the two provinces.  It is also generating over 3,000 MW of electricity, media reports.
 

Pakistan Monsoon Rainfall July 2022. Source: PMD

Pakistan Drought Monitor. Source: NDMC, PMD

Pakistan Meteorological Department data shows that Pakistan has seen far more rainfall than normal. About 178 mm of rain has fallen in the country, an increase of 180.5% of normal for the month of July. 

NASA Groundwater Map of August 8, 2022. Source: NASA GRACE

Recent satellite maps from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirm significant groundwater growth in Pakistan. The improvement becomes much more apparent when the latest map is compared with one from 2014.
 
Satellite Groundwater Map of 2014. Source: NASA

Pakistan’s Indus Basin Irrigation System is the world's largest artificial groundwater recharge system, according to the World Bank.  A network of canals dug since the 16th century has recharged the Indus Basin aquifer in Pakistan which now has about 1.2 million tube wells extracting 50 million acre feet of water every year.  NASA satellite maps show that Pakistan is among the places worst affected by rapid depletion of groundwater.  Improved groundwater management is crucial for a healthy, prosperous, and green Pakistan. It appears that the groundwater in the Indus Basin has been replenished to a large extent for many years to come, raising hopes for more water for farmers to grow crops to feed and clothe people and raise livestock. 

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Comment by Riaz Haq on September 1, 2022 at 4:27pm

Why are Pakistan’s floods so bad this year?
Climate change is making South Asia’s monsoons increasingly erratic

https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2022/08/31/why-are-pakista...

Even before this summer’s rains began, Pakistanis living along the country’s rivers were witness to the immense power of climate change. Meltwater from the Himalayas had swollen them by May, a month before the highest temperatures of the year were expected. Summers are getting hotter across the Indian subcontinent and, in turn, the monsoon rains that break the heat are becoming increasingly unpredictable: early or late, deficient or superabundant. This year’s devastating cloudbursts are a terrible case in point (see chart).

By the end of August Pakistan had received three times its annual average rainfall. The swollen Indus river and its many tributaries have therefore burst their banks, washing away buildings and destroying harvests and the livelihoods of millions in a country where 65% of the population is sustained directly by agriculture. A third of the country is estimated to have been submerged. And the country’s government, distracted by protracted political and economic crises, has proved to be woefully unprepared for this inundation. Over 1,100 people have perished in the floods, including hundreds of children. The government estimates that the disaster has so far caused over $10bn-worth of damage. And worse will follow as the rains keep falling and food shortages and flood-related epidemics set in.

Much of the northern hemisphere has been struggling with drought this summer. America, China and most of Europe are therefore seeing crop failures, dwindling waterways and electricity shortages (in part due to diminished availability of hydro-power and high demand for air-conditioning). Most of South Asia (including Pakistan) is meanwhile receiving unusually heavy rainfall.

In the long-term, South Asia should expect more extreme rainfall as a result of climate change. In a study published in 2021, a German research team estimated that for every degree Celsius of global warming the Indian subcontinent can expect an additional 5.3% of precipitation during the monsoon. This is because, as the atmosphere’s temperature rises, so does its capacity to bear moisture.

This year’s devastation is spread unevenly across Pakistan’s varied geography. Two relatively arid southern provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, received 336% and 446% more rain than they would during a normal July. Downriver from the glacial melt, they were especially unprepared to absorb it. Himalayan regions, such as Pakistan-administered Kashmir, have meanwhile had average or reduced rainfall.

In an appeal for foreign aid this week, Pakistan’s finance minister, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, noted how inequitably the costs of climate change are being experienced around the world. Pakistan emits less than 1% of the greenhouse-gas emissions responsible for global warming, Yet, he said, Pakistanis are “paying the price in their lives”.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 1, 2022 at 5:16pm

How to help #Flood Victims in #Pakistan? Donate generously to Islamic Relief, Edhi Foundation, UNICEF, Alkhidmat, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Save the Children and other #NGOs working on the ground. #FloodsInPakistan https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/01/pakistan-help-donat...

Extreme flooding has decimated communities in Pakistan and killed more than 1,000 people, many of them children. Millions more have been displaced, their homes destroyed. Crops have been ravaged, heightening concerns of malnutrition.

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As the crisis continues to unfold, officials have called on the international community for aid, estimating it may cost billions of dollars to recover from the damage.

Here are some organizations you can donate to:

Islamic Relief
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Islamic Relief has been operating in Pakistan since 1992. The organization is focused on providing food aid, access to clean water and other humanitarian supplies. Donate here.

UNICEF
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The United Nations Children’s Fund is working to provide health services, water and hygiene kits to affected families. The agency is also setting up temporary education centers. Donate here.

International Medical Corps
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The International Medical Corps has been operating in the country since 1985. The organization is focused on providing medical care and supplies, mental health support, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene services. Donate here.

Alkhidmat Foundation Pakistan
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This nonprofit launched an Emergency Flood Appeal calling for donations. The organization has been providing food and shelter to those affected since July. Donate here.

International Rescue Committee
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The IRC has operated in Pakistan since 1980. The organization has “reached almost 20,000 people with critical food, supplies and medical support,” Shabnam Baloch, IRC’s Pakistan director, said in a statement. “We are urgently requesting donors to step up their support and help us save lives.” Donate here.

Mercy Corps
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Mercy Corps is working in the hard-hit province of Baluchistan, providing food, water and funds to those affected. Donate here.

Save the Children
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Save the Children has been working in Pakistan since 1979. The organization is providing shelter, schooling, food and cookware to affected areas. Donate here.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 1, 2022 at 8:30pm

Michael Kugelman
@MichaelKugelman
Some of the countries that have pledged (and in some cases already delivered) flood relief aid to Pakistan:

Azerbaijan
Bangladesh
Canada
China
Denmark
France
Iran
Kazakhstan
Norway
Qatar
Singapore
Turkey
UAE
UK
US

Also reports that some G20 countries will provide debt relief.

https://twitter.com/MichaelKugelman/status/1565533667417591808?s=20...

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 2, 2022 at 5:05pm

#US will provide $30 million for relief effort in #PakistanFloods2022 which 'affected an estimated 33 million people," destroyed or damaged one million homes, and has led to the loss of "nearly 735,000 livestock -- a major source of livelihoods and food."https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/02/politics/usaid-dart-pakistan/index.html

According to the agency, the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, will "lead the US government's response efforts in Pakistan," where at least 1,100 have been killed and at least 4,800 have been injured in floods across the country since June 14.

A USAID spokesperson told CNN Friday that there are currently "four members of the DART on the ground in Pakistan working to assess the situation and determine how the United States can work with the Government of Pakistan to provide additional resources."
More members of the team are on their way, and "the DART will remain active on the ground until USAID can determine that needs have been met," the spokesperson said.

According to the spokesperson, The Department of Defense "is sending an assessment team to Islamabad to determine what potential support DoD can provide to USAID as part of the United States' assistance to the flooding crisis in Pakistan." They said the aid "remains in close coordination with DoD to determine any necessary support for our response."
"In addition to mobilizing the DART, U.S. government staff based in the region and Washington, D.C., are monitoring the situation closely, including any potential impacts the flooding may have in the broader region," the agency said in a press release Friday.
Earlier this week, USAID announced that the US will provide $30 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the flooding, which it said "has affected an estimated 33 million people," destroyed or damaged one million homes, and has led to the loss of "nearly 735,000 livestock -- a major source of livelihoods and food."
"With these funds, USAID partners will prioritize urgently needed support for food, nutrition, multi-purpose cash, safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene, and shelter assistance," the press release from the agency said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 3, 2022 at 11:11am

What Is Owed to Pakistan, Now One-Third Underwater by Fatima Bhutto

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/03/opinion/environment/floods-in-pa...

One in seven Pakistanis have been affected, with many sleeping under open skies, without shelter. About 900,000 livestock have been lost, and more than two million acres of farmland and 90 percent of crops have been damaged. In some provinces, cotton and rice crops, date trees and sugar cane have been nearly obliterated, and half of the onion, chili and tomato crops, all staple foods, are gone. Over 1,350 people are dead, and some 33 million people (50 million according to unofficial tallies) have been displaced.

-------

The worst hit province of Sindh, in the south, suffers in extremis. Sindh does not appear to have any disaster preparedness, or any plans in place to reinforce water infrastructure or the barely functioning sewage system.

The survivors, the majority of whom are poor, must now avoid hunger and disease lurking in the rising, fetid flood water. More rain is predicted. Much of Sindh is close to sea level, which means that the floodwaters from the north will continue rushing downstream.

Ahsan Iqbal, the minister of planning and development, has called Pakistan a victim of climate change caused by the “irresponsible development of the developed world.” Pakistan is about 2.6 percent of the world’s population and contributes less than 1 percent of global carbon emissions, and yet it has paid a monumental price. As a point of context, the United States is only about 4 percent of the world’s population, and yet is responsible for about 13 percent of global carbon emissions.

In 2019, Philip Alston, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights at the time, warned that global heating would undermine basic rights to water, food and housing. We faced a future, Mr. Alston said, where the wealthy will pay to avoid these deprivations while the rest of the world suffers.

The Global North can help the poor of the Global South by taking responsibility for the losses and damages of extreme weather fueled in part by the burning of fossil fuels. The impacts of decades of fossil fuel burning are already too severe, and apply too unevenly to the poor, for the Global North to deny culpability.

In 2010, a year that we were also deluged, Pakistan’s Meteorological Department recorded nationwide rains 70 to 102 percent above normal levels. Locally, the numbers were more terrifying — in Khanpur, a city in Punjab, it was 1,483 percent above normal. The rivers swelled and the Indus and its tributaries soon burst their banks. A dam failure created floodwater lakes. USAID estimated that 1.7 million homes were damaged and more than 20 million people were affected. The economic losses were around $11 billion, and a fifth of the country had been affected.

Today’s superflood may well prove to be worse — at one point in Sindh Province, rainfall was 508 percent above average.

The International Monetary Fund has released $1.17 billion in funds to Pakistan that had previously been allocated for a government bailout in 2019. The secretary general of the U.N. has also asked member states to give $160 million. But I.M.F. money comes with painful strings attached for countries like Pakistan, and it will not be enough to rebuild, nor to prevent future disasters. This is climate change. It is relentless and furious, and this is not the worst we have seen of it.

The lack of attention on Pakistan is heartbreaking: Too few major international cultural figures are speaking up for us in this moment of crisis. It is either a snide form of racism — that terrible things happen to places like Pakistan — or else an utter failure of compassion. But Pakistan has long been a cipher, a warning for the world, just like those old stories. And so the wealthy world would do well to pay attention. The horrors that Pakistan is struggling with today could soon come for everyone.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 5, 2022 at 7:53am

The devastating floods in Pakistan are a "wake-up call" to the world on the threats of climate change, experts have said.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-62758811

The record-breaking rain would devastate any country, not just poorer nations, one climate scientist has told BBC News.

The human impacts are clear - another 2,000 people were rescued from floodwaters on Friday, while ministers warn of food shortages after almost half the country's crops were washed away.

A sense of injustice is keenly felt in the country. Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the global greenhouse gases that warm our planet but its geography makes it extremely vulnerable to climate change.

"Literally, one-third of Pakistan is underwater right now, which has exceeded every boundary, every norm we've seen in the past," Climate minister Sherry Rehman said this week.

Pakistan is located at a place on the globe which bears the brunt of two major weather systems. One can cause high temperatures and drought, like the heatwave in March, and the other brings monsoon rains.

The majority of Pakistan's population live along the Indus river, which swells and can flood during monsoon rains.

The science linking climate change and more intense monsoons is quite simple. Global warming is making air and sea temperatures rise, leading to more evaporation. Warmer air can hold more moisture, making monsoon rainfall more intense.

Scientists predict that the average rainfall in the Indian summer monsoon season will increase due to climate change, explains Anja Katzenberger at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

But Pakistan has something else making it susceptible to climate change effects - its immense glaciers.

The northern region is sometimes referred to as the 'third pole' - it contains more glacial ice than anywhere in the world outside of the polar regions.

As the world warms, glacial ice is melting. Glaciers in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions are melting rapidly, creating more than 3,000 lakes, the the UN Development Programme told BBC News. Around 33 of these are at risk of sudden bursting, which could unleash millions of cubic meters of water and debris, putting 7 million people at risk.

Pakistan's government and the UN are attempting to reduce the risks of these sudden outburst floods by installing early-warning systems and protective infrastructure.

In the past poorer countries with weaker flood defences or lower-quality housing have been less able to cope with extreme rainfall.

But climate impact scientist Fahad Saeed told BBC News that even a rich nation would be overwhelmed by the catastrophic flooding this summer.

"This is a different type of animal - the scale of the floods is so high and the rain is so extreme, that even very robust defences would struggle," Dr Saeed explains from Islamabad, Pakistan.

He points to the flooding in Germany and Belgium that killed dozens of people in 2021.

Pakistan received nearly 190% more rain than its 30-year average from June to August - reaching a total of 390.7mm.

He says that Pakistan's meteorological service did a "reasonable" job in warning people in advance about flooding. And the country does have some flood defences but they could be improved, he says.

People with the smallest carbon footprints are suffering the most, Dr Saeed says.

"The victims are living in mud homes with hardly any resources - they have contributed virtually nothing to climate change," he says.

The flooding has affected areas that don't normally see this type of rain, including southern regions Sindh and Balochistan that are normally arid or semi-arid.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 12, 2022 at 10:18am

‘Very Dire’: Devastated by Floods, Pakistan Faces Looming Food Crisis
The flooding has crippled Pakistan’s agricultural sector, battering the country as it reels from an economic crisis and double-digit inflation that has sent the price of basics soaring.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/11/world/asia/pakistan-floods-food-...

Violent swells have swept away roads, homes, schools and hospitals across much of Pakistan. Millions of people have been driven from their homes, struggling through waist-deep, fetid water to reach islands of safety. Nearly all of the country’s crops along with thousands of livestock and stores of wheat and fertilizer have been damaged — prompting warnings of a looming food crisis.

Since a deluge of monsoon rains lashed Pakistan last week, piling more water on top of more than two months of record flooding that has killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of millions, the Pakistani government and international relief organizations have scrambled to save people and vital infrastructure in what officials have called a climate disaster of epic proportions.

Floodwater now covers around a third of the country, including its agricultural belt, with more rain predicted in the coming weeks. The damage from the flood will likely be “far greater” than initial estimates of around $10 billion, according to the country’s planning minister, Ahsan Iqbal.

The flooding has crippled a country that was already reeling from an economic crisis and double digit-inflation that has sent the price of basic goods soaring. Now the flooding threatens to set Pakistan back years or even decades, officials warned, and to fan the flames of political tensions that have engulfed the country since former Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted last spring.

The damage to the country’s agricultural sector could also be felt across the globe, experts warn. Pakistan is one of the world’s top producers and exporters of cotton and rice — crops that have been devastated by the flood. As much as half of the country’s cotton crop has been destroyed, officials said, a blow to global cotton production in a year when cotton prices have soared as other major producers from the United States to China have been hit with extreme weather.

The floodwaters also threaten to derail Pakistan’s wheat planting season this fall, raising the possibility of continued food shortfalls and price spikes through next year. It is an alarming prospect in a country that depends on its wheat production to feed itself at a time when global wheat supplies are precarious.


“We’re in a very dire situation,” said Rathi Palakrishnan, deputy country director of the World Food Program in Pakistan. “There’s no buffer stocks of wheat, there’s no seeds because farmers have lost them.”

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government, along with the United Nations, has appealed for $160 million in emergency funding to reach 5.2 million of the country’s most vulnerable people.

The scale of the devastation in Pakistan stands out even in a year punctuated by extreme weather, including heat waves across Europe and the United States, intense rain that has drenched parts of Asia and the worst drought to hit East Africa in decades.

Since the start of the monsoon season in Pakistan this summer, more than 1,300 people have died in floods — nearly half of whom are children — and more than 6,000 have been injured, according to the United Nations. Around 33 million people have been displaced. Floodwater now covers around 100,000 square miles — an area larger than the size of Britain — with more floods expected in the coming weeks.

Sindh Province, which produces around a third of the country’s food supply, has been among the hardest hit by the rains. The province received nearly six times its 30-year average rainfall this monsoon season, which has damaged around 50 percent of the province’s crops, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 20, 2022 at 4:58pm

PAKISTAN FLOODS Submerged Cities (Mehar, Qambar, Larkana, Sukkur, Khairpur Nathanshah, Sehwan, Satellite images show unprecedented floods have left parts of Pakistan underwater. https://graphics.reuters.com/PAKISTAN-WEATHER/FLOODS/zgvomodervd/ ---------- Floods from record monsoon rains in Pakistan and glacial melt in the country’s mountainous north have affected 33 million people and killed over 1,500, washing away homes, roads, railways, bridges, livestock and crops in damage estimated at $30 billion. Both the government and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres have blamed climate change for the extreme weather that led to the flooding and submerged huge areas of the nation of 220 million. Large swathes of the country are inundated, and hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes while some villages have become islands. Images from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite, analysed by Reuters, show the extent of flooding around towns and cities in Sindh province, one of the country’s worst affected areas. There are at least three points in Dadu district in the province of Sindh where the Indus Highway is submerged, with traffic suspended for weeks, while Pakistan's other highway connecting the north and south has also been badly hit by the flood waters. The cities of Qambar and Larkana sit around 25 km apart and are just west of the Indus River. Both have been heavily impacted by flood water. Images show farm fields that resemble massive lakes of several miles in diameter and landscapes which are usually a spectrum of brown, yellow and green, now submerged by water. Reuters’ drone footage over Sindh showed agricultural and residential areas completely submerged in water, with just the tops of trees and buildings visible. Urban centres like Larkana and Sukkur, while not completely unscathed, faced comparatively lesser damage from the flooding. The airport remains operational and is receiving flights that are carrying relief supplies that have been arriving from China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates carrying tents, food and medicine. People from nearby villages are also queuing up to get treated at hospitals in the city. U.N. agencies have begun work to assess the South Asian nation's reconstruction needs after it received 391 mm (15.4 inches) of rain, or nearly 190% more than the 30-year average, in July and August. Sindh received 466% more rain than average. The map below shows the extent of flooding through the province. Many of the towns and villages have been submerged or surrounded by flood waters. Over the last few weeks, authorities have thrown up barriers to keep the flood waters out of key structures such as power stations as well as homes, while farmers who stayed to try and save their cattle faced a new threat as fodder began to run out. Data from Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, shows how rapidly the disaster unfolded as more people died towards the end of August and the numbers continue to pile up. In Sindh, the country’s hardest hit region, accounts for little over 40 percent of the deaths. As of Sept 18 the floods have partially or permanently damaged over 1.9 million houses, destroyed 12,718 km (7,902 miles) of roads, nearly a million livestock, and swamped millions of acres of farmland since the start of the monsoon. Data shows how damage and destruction escalated during August when rains were heaviest. More than half a million homes have been completely destroyed. The majority of the damaged infrastructure is in Sindh. The city of Khairpur Nathan Shah in Sindh, which is about 25 km (15.5 miles) west of the Indus River is completely surrounded by flood water. The roofs of the homes resemble an archipelago in place of a city. The crisis is far from over as rescue operations have been unable to get to all the affected areas. Of the 33 million people affected, about half a million have been moved to camps with about 180,000 rescued. More than half of the country’s 160 districts continue to be affected by the floods.

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