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.

Southasia - - CON­TENTS - By Muham­mad Ali Ehsan The writer is a re­tired lieu­tenant colonel of the Pak­istan Army. He is cur­rently pur­su­ing a Ph.D in civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions.

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...

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