A Flood Strategy
The people of Pakistan cannot continue to suffer from the ravages of floods every year. The government needs to draw up a definite strategy to prevent the recurring disaster.
Every year Pakistan experiences floods of great proportions. People are left homeless and most end up losing their entire earnings and are forced into debt, with little or no means of livelihood.
The killing cycle has continued with little attention from the ‘metro loving’ and ‘motorway-developing’ Sharif government. The big question is what are our development priorities and are they right? When millions of people suffer in this country due to the rising waters, shouldn't those in the government rise above their conscience to do something to change the status quo? The temporary flood camps hardly cater for food, shelter and hygiene and are no substitute for a concrete approach that would prevent the loss of so many lives and property every year.
In many ways, 2015 happens to be the fourth consecutive year of flood disasters in Pakistan. Every year, not only are millions of people left to suffer from diseases and malnutrition but many standing crops of wheat and rice are washed away, hurtling the people in a vicious cycle of borrowing and debts to make their two ends meet. Unquestionably, they are the same people who suffer again and again just because the government does too little or even nothing in preparing to meet the flood disaster every year. Imagine the agony of the people who continue to demonstrate the fortitude to return from their makeshift shelters and tents to rebuild what they lose, only to start all over again the following year.
As a result, Pakistan today suffers from a huge humanitarian crisis. If nothing, at least national self-esteem demands that the crisis due to floods must be stopped from occurring every year. The country’s National Disaster Management Authority needs to be organized, funded and resourced to undertake contingency planning on the war footing. It should develop an early warning system so that the evacuation of people is carried out in time and with minimum loss. The NDMA should discourage people from building houses on floodbands (embankments) and, most importantly, inform and help them in not rebuilding houses in the risk-prone areas. Instead, it should encourage and finance the
reconstruction of houses on elevated plains. It looks like this will not be possible unless the parliament initiates a serious debate on the issue, determines the long-term goals and decides on the courses of action to achieve the goals. Most importantly, the government needs to allocate funds and resources to ensure that it is not just the army that runs helter-skelter every year to carry out flood relief operations. A well resourced, well equipped and well organized ‘ flood management entity’ is always required to respond to the situation.
Interestingly, it is not that a policy on disaster management does not exist. In 2013 the government approved a National Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policy. Under the policy funding for National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) increased from PKR 93 million in 2011/2012 to PKR 169 million in 2014/2015. Had the money been utilized properly, a defence shield against the disaster would be in place or at least a competent workforce would be handling emergencies after every disaster. Unfortunately, the government has prepared poorly which means the people have been made to suffer.
The absence of local government further aggravates the situation because immediate relief would have come at the local and district level. Had local bodies elections been held, the people from local communities would have been in the forefront to provide relief to the suffering. Well-funded local bodies could have rebuilt the roads due to flooding and landslides. They would not have waited for help to come from the provincial capitals and would have immediately allocated funds for the repair effort. Immediate local response would have also prevented skin diseases, dengue fever, diarrhea and other medical complications.
In the given circumstances, things are not likely to get better very soon. According to the think tank Germanwatch, Pakistan is ranked as the tenth most vulnerable country to climate change in the Global Climate Risk Index 2015. The NDMA needs to work at a very fast pace to build its capacity. It’s not all about the allocation of funds but the lack of institutionalization, the inability of the NDMA to implement its policies at different tiers of the government and the lack of coordination within the disaster management setup. That is why it said that the poor response to the floods is an indication of a severe crisis of management and governance.
During the recent floods, the Chitral area was one of the worst hit and flash floods there washed away more than 28 villages. No doubt it was a natural calamity but had the government taken timely measures, much of the loss to life and property could have been avoided. The government can start working on a term basis and focus on planting more trees and building small dams and diversion canals.
An estimated 715,000 people in Pakistan are affected by floods every year, leading to a loss of almost 1% of the national GDP, which translates into US $ 2.7 billion, It is essential for the government to take preventive measures so that these losses can be cut down and there is a smaller dent in the economy. If this does not happen, every year thousands of people will continue to be trapped in a state of uncertainty. They will continue to live makeshift lives in slums and will extend their hands out to the government for assistance and support. They will always remain at the receiving end and wait for the government to meet its rehabilitation promises.
It is an ironic situation that while this country has demonstrated that it is poor at controlling floods, it has also not made any efforts to adapt its existing infrastructure. More alert governments would have created new laws and implemented the existing ones to protect forests and the environment. It is this context that the national flood management strategy needs to be overhauled to ensure that ‘unnecessary losses’ because of our systemic inefficiencies and poor governance do not take place. The present government needs to demonstrate its involvement in good governance on a more convincing manner – and all across the country. It can start making a contribution to preventing future disasters from floods by restricting construction and development activity in the flood zones and ensuring that encroachments do not occur on river embankments and dried river beds.
According to one report, the National Engineering Services of Pakistan, with the assistance of the Netherlands based Deltares Institute, has developed the country’s fourth national flood protection plan for 2015-2025. The plan was formulated after almost two years of consultations with various stakeholders. After having reached a final shape, the ten year strategy has been forwarded to the Water and Power ministry. There is good reason to believe that the plan will see the light of day soon and its implementation will be undertaken on a fast-track basis...