The residents of Lower Kohistan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province are still grappling with the aftermath of the 2022 flood that devastated the valley. The flood, which struck the Tehsil Bankad and Pattan regions of lower Kohistan, caused widespread destruction and brought life to a standstill.
The 2022 flood remains a disturbing recollection for the residents, particularly those living near the river streams. The disaster caused widespread destruction, with families facing difficulties in accessing basic necessities, businesses struggling to recover, and essential services not yet fully restored. The flood wiped out crucial infrastructure such as roads, schools, health units, and bridges, leaving the affected areas far from their pre-disaster state. In addition, the destruction of numerous small hydroelectric power units, leaving the major parts of valley without electricity, even the 17-megawatt Ranolia hydroelectric power station was severely damaged and remains non-functional to this day.
According to the elders, they have never heard of such a flood occurring in over 100 years, “not even from their grandparents’ tales.” People are worried about the potential rise of the river streams. Climate change, with its rising global temperatures and its impacts on precipitation patterns, is also expected to increase the frequency and severity of floods in the future and can put communities and their infrastructure at risk. The devastating flood serves as a reminder that such events will not be a one-off occurrence.
The Dubair and Kayal River streams have now become an ominous symbol of dread for the residents, evoking a sense of fear and foreboding. These raging waters claimed numerous lives, including the heart-wrenching tragedy of five relatives whose desperate pleas for help were captured in viral videos. The memory of this soul-crushing event remains ingrained in the minds of the people in the valley and is difficult to forget. The fear of the dangerous river is so palpable that mothers never let their children out of sight when crossing it, constantly keeping watch over them until they safely cross to the other side. Residents fear potential river flooding during the peak monsoon season, which could leave them vulnerable and stranded without access to bridges. The affected population is still struggling to regain a sense of normalcy in the aftermath of the devastating flood of 2022, but with external support and proper infrastructure assistance, they hope to get back to their daily lives and start the process of rebuilding.
The floods were primarily caused by heavy rainfall and snow melting in the surrounding mountains. These floods can be exacerbated by the region’s poor infrastructure, including inadequate drainage systems and insufficient flood protection measures, poor land use planning, rampant deforestation, human activities such as construction without planning and extractive industries that altered the natural flow pattern and increased flood risks. In addition, the overuse of water resources and persistent soil erosion also increased the risk of flooding by reducing the area’s capacity to absorb and store water. Besides this, natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides can also trigger flash floods by blocking rivers and disrupting the natural flow of water. Additionally, the region’s rugged terrain and limited road access can make it difficult for aid and rescue workers to reach those affected by floods.
Furthermore, the potential for Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) cannot be ignored as the region is home to several glaciers and the formation of glacial lakes can result in flash floods. Additionally, the role of dams cannot be dismissed, as the opening of spillways of the Duber Khwar Hydroelectric Dam during recent floods intensified the runoff and caused downstream flooding. The construction of dams changes the natural flow patterns of rivers and streams, leading to changes in water levels, increased erosion, and heightened the flood risks. The environmental impacts of dams are apparent, such as altering the natural flow of water, disrupting river ecosystems, and potentially leading to the extinction of fish species and other aquatic life. For instance, the famous trout fish population has been severely impacted, with many farms destroyed.
The government should take a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to address the issue of devastating floods and their aftermath. This means looking beyond just one or two factors and exploring all potential causes and contributing factors. By taking a holistic approach, the government can gather a complete understanding of the issue and identify the most effective measures to prevent future disasters. Flooding is a major environmental concern that can cause significant damage to communities and ecosystems.
To mitigate the impacts of flooding, it is essential to implement effective flood protection measures. This includes improving drainage systems, land use planning, preventing deforestation and promoting reforestation. It is also important to minimise human activities that can alter the natural flow patterns of rivers and streams, such as construction and extractive industries. Additionally, soil erosion and water resource management should be emphasised to reduce the risk of flooding. In order to prepare for and respond to natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides – that can trigger flash floods – it is necessary to increase the preparedness of communities and organisations. Improving road access is also important to make it easier for aid and rescue workers to reach those affected by floods.
Finally, it is important to review and reassess the impacts of dams on the natural flow patterns of rivers and streams and make changes to reduce the risks of downstream flooding. By implementing measures to protect aquatic life and ecosystems, including measures to protect fish species and other aquatic organisms, we can preserve these critical habitats for future generations.