When Disaster Rains, Talk

COLOMBO, Aug 20 2013 (IPS) – Gulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, was sure early this month that the second leg of the annual monsoon due in the latter half of the month was going to be bad. “Normally it peaks towards late August,” Rasul told IPS.

Even before peaking, the 2013 monsoon has been deadly. By mid-August, floods in Pakistan had killed more than 80 and left over 80,000 stranded, according to the Pakistan Disaster Management Agency.

Rasul says South Asian countries need to treat the monsoon with more respect than they do.

“It is vital for the region, probably the most vital annual weather event, and we need to be better prepared. It is at our risk that we take it lightly,” Rasul said from his office in Islamabad.

The monsoon has been erratic in recent years. Last year the monsoon failed in Sri Lanka, and parts of the country’s northern, eastern and southern regions went through a drought that affected at least 1.2 million people.

This year the monsoon has been above average. Rains have been lashing the country since June, and have so far caused 58 deaths and stranded over 17,000.

“We need to have a better understanding how the monsoon is changing and be better prepared,” S. H. Kariyawasam, head of the Meteorological Department in Sri Lanka said, agreeing with Rasul.

One of the effective means of achieving this is real-time sharing of weather information among countries in the region, experts say.

Rasul sees a simple need to share information. “If countries at the beginning of the monsoon keep sending updates, then countries at the toe end like Pakistan could prepare better.”

If such a scheme had been in place, it would have proved life-saving, according to Mandira Singh Shrestha, programme coordinator and senior water resources specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, Nepal.

She told IPS that as the monsoon moved north from Sri Lanka into north India, information-sharing could have alerted national and regional weather authorities in India to take precautionary measures.

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