Making Monsoons Beneficial
Rapidly changing global climatic conditions have turned the monsoon season into mayhem for Pakistan. Due to lack of resilience to disaster, economic and development experts have expressed a number of fears for the monsoon season, usually running from July to September. These fears are mostly based on the lack of adequate preparedness.
Neva Khan, Director, Oxfam Pakistan says, “Now is the time to build up Pakistan’s resilience to disaster. The cost of implementing safeguards pales in comparison to the damage to lives and property (that could be caused by the monsoons).”
In 2010, more than 20 million people in 78 districts of Pakistan were affected by the worst floods in living memory. About 2.4 million hectares of standing crops and about a third of the rice planted that year were destroyed. The paddy yield dropped by 38 percent, as revealed by the Food and Agriculture Organization.
In general, monsoons bring several low lying areas of urban cities under a floodlike situation. Karachi suffers due to an ageing drainage system. Throughout the country, monsoons leave the transport and communication system paralyzed with crashed computer systems at airports and a complete power outage.
According to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Pakistan is at a continued risk of man-made and natural disasters and has lost around $10.8 billion – about a third of its 2009-10 budget – to the floods last year. Yet the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank estimate that an investment of only $27 million in disaster risk reduction mechanisms could greatly reduce losses from future disasters.
Pakistan’s neighbouring countries, India and China, receive prolonged and much more severe monsoons every year. Both countries have strengthened their disaster management and the non-agricultural sector so that their macroeconomic performance is less dependent on the monsoons, while good monsoons provide additional profits. A Mumbai-based financial expert says, “Good rains ensure higher farm incomes and fuel favourable demand for products, ranging from soaps to televisions to motorbikes.”
The monsoon acts as a potent force in pushing the Indian economy forward. It brings nearly eight to 10 percent in economic growth. This is not so in Pakistan, where continued water mismanagement and inefficiencies in the existing irrigation systems are compounding the problem for the agricultural as well as the nonagricultural sector.
On the political front, an air of distrust is created between India and Pakistan over the building of crucial dams like Baglihar and Kishanganga. A US Senate report has aptly recommended the need for basic technical inputs for the concerned countries to gather benchmark data, which in turn, could help improve water management and reduce overall pressure on shared water resources.
Moreover, in a move to preserve subsoil water, India has restricted its farmers from planting nurseries on irrigated waters. The planting season of major crops like rice, cotton and sugarcane has been moved to the monsoon season to make use of the rain water. However, in Pakistan the practice is the other way round. Farmers here start planting nurseries in April and sowing crops in May. Thus, by the time the monsoon hits the country, the crop has already received three to four irrigations – all coming from canal water. This leaves a dry subsoil water table.
Along with construction of dams and efficient disaster management, the repositioning of crops in the monsoon season is crucial to preserving the agriculture potential of the country. A wise use of monsoon rains can prevent the economy of Pakistan from losing around $34 billion worth of irrigation water. According to agricultural economists, one million acre feet (MAF) of water, if used judicially, should benefit an economy by $2 billion annually. A strong action plan can make the system more resilient during the monsoons to support the country’s economy