KP’s ‘mini cyclone’ restores faith in global warming

  • PDMA decries impossibility to act without a warning as PMD laments lack of ability to issue one
  • Environmentalists stress need to take pro-active measures in face of global warming, changing climate


Pakistan is not fighting a losing battle against climate change, it has completely turned the other cheek while it gets thrashed by Mother Nature


On April 26, the Regional Metrological Centre in Peshawar issued a warning for torrential rains and thunderstorms. As the day progressed, the thunderstorm snowballed into a “mini-cyclone”. The storm left parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) including Peshawar absolutely battered, with over 45 dead and around 200 injured.

Broken houses and fractured infrastructure mar the KP province as it reels from the effects of one of the worst disasters to ever hit Pakistan. The calamity may have been a surprise attack by nature, but it is not one that many can call unexpected. Both the KP Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) were at a loss as to how the issue should be dealt with.

PDMA has been blamed for issuing a warning a bit too late, so late that the catastrophe had already finished doing whatever damage it was meant to. On Tuesday, the PDMA issued a report, which placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the PMD.


Pakistan Today reached out to Peshawar Regional Meteorological Centre Director Mushtaq Shah, who rubbished the report.

“If they say that no warning was issued, they are not wrong, because there was no way for us to issue such a warning. There was no negligence on our part, we simply do not have the technology that can help us issue such a warning,” he said.

“If the PDMA DG feels that a warning could be issued then tell him to come sit at the MET office and issue it himself,” he added.

Shah explained that the situation had a technical limitation and that the forecast of a thunderstorm and rains was issued by multiple MET offices; none had foreseen the devastation that followed.

“The cyclone/twister that emerged basically develops in a limited area. And in such a small amount of time that it is not possible for us to issue any warnings for people to evacuate the area,” he said.

“In 2012, they tried to do this in the USA. They looked at the horizontal and vertical coordinates of weather and tried to analyse them through their own radar and even they were only able to predict it 35 minutes before it happened. By the time a warning was issued there was no stopping the damage,” he said.

“if countries like US, UK, Korea and even China can’t issue warnings for such instances then where does a country like Pakistan stand?” he questioned.


On the other hand, KP PDMA Director General (DG) Amer Afaq believes that this is “no time for point scoring”. “It was very unfortunate whatever happened. Nevertheless, it has to be mentioned that we totally rely on advisory from the MET office. This is absolutely no point in anyone blaming anyone else in this situation,” he said.

Afaq believes that the focus needs to lie on building capacity so that such calamities can be detected. “The only way out is to look into technological advancement for the MET office. I will repeat that the PDMA has no observatory of its own; this is just a coordinating body. We rely on information from the MET office and then we forward that information ahead to district administrations,” he explained, adding that there was a dire need to work on early warning systems in the country.

“If information is shared with us timely then we can forward it further in a timely manner. We’re looking into getting mobile networks on board to issue such warnings in the future,” he told Pakistan Today.

The KP PDMA DG also addressed why the report had been issued in the first place. “When there is media warfare ongoing against you then what would you do in your defence? They keep questioning why we did not act when our SOP was and continues to be to wait for the message and then send it forward. When we were taking to task over ‘inaction’ then we had to explain that we had no way of issuing a warning we did not have. If the MET office can’t issue the same then what’s the solution?” he questioned.


Issues relating to global warming and climate change have been repeatedly highlighted in the context of Pakistan, which has the misfortune of being in the top 10 countries that are most vulnerable to effects of climate change.

From droughts that seem endless to floods that continue to get scarier with each passing year, the mini-cyclone was just another addition to Pakistan’s overflowing plate of disasters.

“The thunderstorm itself is no anomaly. From mid-March to mid-May, we experience cold winds from Afghanistan, and with the heat wave coming in from the east, thunderstorms are but natural in the area. This is especially true for central Pakistan, and more so for Peshawar. So the frontal direction becomes Peshawar and the adjoining areas,” Shah explained.

The anomaly, as the country witnessed, was the snowballing intensity of the storm, which turned it into a mini-cyclone. “This is the first of its kind to ever happen in the area. Moreover, as far as I know this cyclone or twister is new to the South Asian region. It’s the first of its kind of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India,” the PMD director said.


Earlier, KP ministers held a press conference wherein they held the PMD responsible.

KP Information Minister Mushtaq Shani had said that the PMD had a responsibility to ensure that climate advisory was effective to the point that such catastrophes could be controlled.

However, Ahmed Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer based in Lahore, feels that a warning is no longer going to be enough.

“Pakistan’s Climate Change Policy of 2012 says that climate change will lead to an increase in unexpected and unpredicted extreme weather events, which is what the mini-cyclone was,” Alam explained. “Urban cities need to be designed better and in a way that they can deal with climate change related calamities,” he added, explaining how a warning was just one part of the puzzle.

Climate change does not happen in a vacuum and it is not easy to pinpoint a specific event as the result of the same. Although in the case of the mini-cyclone, it seems like a likely contributor.

Verily no warning will be of much use if the country is not prepared for climate change.

“We have a national policy which deals with both adaptation and resilience against issues relating to climate change. It is a pretty decent framework which outlines precisely what we should be doing,” Alam said. The irony is that the extremely comprehensive paperwork is just that – paperwork. There is not must practical implementation being undertaken by provincial governments.

“We are dealing with uncertainty because of climate change. For instance, back in the day Lahore was much hotter during this time than it is now. In that context yes, the mini-cyclone was an unexpected climate event and the policy already predicted that as much would happen,” he said.

Pakistan needs to build cities that can handle crises better. Climate change and its rage is not a problem with an expiration date. “Floods will increase, so will droughts. We can expect water crisis, which will hit us worse than the energy crisis. Disaster management definitely needs to be worked on,” Alam said while painting a bleak picture of the future.

Environmental journalist Amar Guriro expects the disaster situation to worsen.

“The mini cyclone is an extreme weather event, a clear marker for climate change, which is not first of its kind. April is the transitional period and start of summer when days are getting hotter and nights are still cold due to thermal contrast. In such weather if we witness torrential rains, then you have to believe on climate change,” Guriro asserted.

Guriro repeated Alam’s concerns that the country was not prepared to handle climate change.

“It goes beyond the provincial government, the entire country can’t cope with the upcoming extreme weather events,” he said, adding that incidents like the Super Flood of 2010 and the simultaneous drought in Thar are already proof of disastrous extremes courtesy climate change. “It’s high time we take global warming seriously,” he said sombrely.

According to the UNDP, Pakistan’s forest cover rests at a disappointing four per cent, it losses over six per cent of its GDP to environmental degradation annually. Despite being extremely reliant on natural resources to survive, it does little to protect itself against climate change. While it’s one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases at 0.8 per cent of the total emissions around the world, it is yet to learn how to efficiently manage its energy.

Pakistan has signed onto multiple Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs); however, it is yet to make any progress that can be seen as a significant step towards adaptation or resilience against climate change.