Sher Azam, a 76 year old farmer in the remote village of Thoi in Gilgit-Baltistan was astonished to find his young wheat crop covered by two and half feet of snow in the month of April. Due to the high altitude of the area, farmers like him only plant one crop a year, and plant wheat in mid March. “I have never seen snowfall in April, and such heavy snowfall!” he said. During his entire life spent in his village he has seen nothing to compare with this.
The snow had come on suddenly, piling up in just twelve hours, before being followed by intense rainfall. Although Azam’s crops were damaged, he was comparatively lucky. At least 70 people are reported to have been killed due to flash floods, landslides, and the collapse of houses as rain and snow fell on northern Pakistan over the last three days. The areas most affected were the Yasin, Ishkomen and Phandur valleys, located in the Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan. The most affected villages include Thoi, Hundur, Darkut and Sandhi.
Baber Khan, an environmentalist and head of WWF Gilgit-Baltistan region also felt that the weather patterns were shocking. In the past snowfall in the mountainous areas of northern Pakistan usually started in November and ended in February. Now the season has shifted from February to March, even then, this was the first time such heavy snowfall had occurred in April.
“This pattern has increased vulnerabilities in the upper areas because of the rapid melting of the snow along with rain amid high temperature,” he added.
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Qamer Zaman Chaudhry, a government advisor and climate change expert, who is also the lead author of country’s climate change policy, also believes that such heavy rains and flash floods during this early season has serious implications for how Pakistan deals with the impacts of climate change. Chaudhry says if this pattern continues or increases then there would be serious losses to the country. As weather patterns became more unreliable, the government needs to introduce an effective forecast system, and ensure preparedness to mitigate the losses.