FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 42

Floods: A scene of unmitigated disaster

What will we call it? Flood disaster? Climate emergency? Natural calamity or what? By whatever name we call it, the current rain floods have been the worst, most devastating in Pakistan’s history.

Wherever we look, it’s a scene of unmitigated disaster.The floods of 2022 are different. They are not riverine floods, as was the case in 2010. This time the country has been hit by a dangerous combination of ecological events, including unprecedented torrential rains in central Sindh and Balochistan; flash floods in southern Punjab and lower Sindh, emanating from the Koh-e-Suleiman mountain range, urban flooding in Karachi and other cities, glacial outbursts in the upper Indus basin and cloudbursts upstream Nowshera in the Kabul river.

According to an estimate, over 1,000 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of livestock and acres of land have been destroyed. Bridges, roads, dams and other infrastructure facilities have been washed away. The economic losses run into billions of dollars.

Last week this writer was in the Swat valley. I saw hotels and other big structures built in the beds of mountain streams and rivers crumbling like a house of cards. Floodwaters carried boulders and large rocks like little pebbles wreaking unbelievable damage all the way. Nothing could stand in the way of raging, roaring waters.

Sindh has been the worst affected province. Floods have wiped away entire districts, inundated homes and schools and displaced millions. Livestock in uncounted numbers and standing crops have been damaged. Train tracks have disappeared under water and homeless men, women and children have been left without food or shelter.

It is estimated that more than one million homes have been totally or partially damaged. Hundreds of thousands of livestock have been lost, leaving people hapless and poorer.The flooding has also affected at least two million acres of crop land. All this has raised doubts about the future growth capacity of crops such as cotton, dates, wheat, vegetables and rice, which could lead to the problems of food security and further price shocks.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) over 120 districts have been affected, while 66 have been classified as ‘calamity hit’. Of these districts, 31 are in Balochistan, 23 in Sindh, nine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and three in Punjab.

It is no surprise that those parts of Sindh and Balochistan, which are some of the least developed areas in Pakistan, have been the worst affected by the floods. The development infrastructure in tehsils and talukas that are already behind on development indicators has been totally demolished and it will take years to rebuild. The poorest and marginalised communities are the hardest hit.

The fury of the natural calamity is not the entire story. The neglect and apathy of the government has worked as a damage multiplier. Pakistan is regarded as one of the least prepared countries for climate disasters although some indices have ranked Pakistan as one of the most vulnerable countries.

Climate vulnerability and poverty are mutually reinforcing. Poor people are more vulnerable to climate disasters. But Pakistan is a laggard and deficient on both counts. On the one hand, poverty is rising in Pakistan and, on the other, it is a victim of climate change as manifested in the increasing frequency of tropical storms and floods, heatwaves and droughts

As per official estimates, Pakistan would need US$10 billion for repairs and the reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure and that such reconstruction could take up to five years. Foreign and local NGOs and friendly countries like Turkey, the UAE, the UK, Canada and the United States have come forward to help with financial aid, tents, medical kits, groceries and cooked food for the victims in different parts of the country. But the ultimate responsibility is on our shoulders.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was established in 2007, but the district-level Disaster Management Authorities, or DDMAs, have not yet been established. In the opinion of experts, to deal with future disastrous climate events, local disaster management institutions should be immediately established and provided with the wherewithal to flood emergencies and similar climate shocks.

Learning from the current climate change, we need to upgrade our approaches and standard practices. We need to invest in climate resilient infrastructure and set up new special-purpose institutions need to be created for risk transfer and insurance institutions.

The immediate need is to provide food, medicine and tents to the people marooned in rural areas. Media reports show that the current relief efforts are not commensurate with the need. The situation in this regard is especially concerning in Sindh.