Our approach to floods


Editorial

Floods, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), have so far claimed 109 lives.

And while the hardest hit province has been Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 50 dead, and Chitral the worst hit, yet Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir have also suffered fatalities and inundation of several areas leaving hundreds of thousands homeless without adequate food and water. The Sindh government has requested the army to remain on standby following reports of imminent high flood.

Floods in Pakistan have become an almost annual feature and while the 2010 floods took the heaviest toll in terms of human life and livestock, devastation of entire villages and massive destruction of infrastructure, yet floods did considerable damage in subsequent years as well.

In 2011, around 361 people died with 5.3 million impacted due to the floods, 1.2 million houses were destroyed and 1.7 million acres of arable land was inundated; in 2012 more than 100 people died, thousands of homes were destroyed and thousands of acres of arable land was affected as intense rainfall battered Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, southern Punjab and Upper Sindh; in 2013 more than 80 people died and in 2014 Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Punjab were affected by floods. The flood situation is serious in the current year as well though the loss of life and destruction of assets is still rising.

There is sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that flooding is an outcome of climate change. In this context, it is relevant to note that the Sharif administration has been focused on infrastructure development – notably road building and Metro bus – without first undertaking a cost benefit analysis to assess the impact of such projects on climate change and therefore on floods which impact hundreds of thousands of the vulnerable each year.

The PPP-led coalition government and post-2013 general elections, the Nawaz Sharif administration, have supported extending assistance to those impacted through launching rescue missions as well as immediately providing essentials (food, water and tents) to those affected. Rehabilitation through providing monetary assistance to enable those whose homes have been destroyed to rebuild as well as extending assistance to those whose lands could not be productively used for a season due to inundation have also been part of the government policy.

There appears to be no policy backed by budgetary allocation to minimize the impact of floods through constructing appropriate mitigating infrastructure which includes planting vegetation to retain extra water, terracing hillsides to slow flow downhill, construction of flood ways (man-made channels to divert floodwater), construction of levees, lakes, dams, reservoirs, and retention ponds to hold extra water during times of flooding.

What is also extremely unfortunate is that there have been numerous reports during the past five years of emergency assistance for the flood-affected being siphoned off by corrupt officials and senior members of the executive. Thus food, clean drinking water as well as tents and other supplies procured specifically for the flood victims were either visible on sale in markets or else were not procured in the quantities for which funds had been earmarked. And equally disturbingly the trend has been to focus on relief and rehabilitation activities for a short period of time and as soon as media attention begins to wither and wane funds earmarked for flood victims are diverted. This accounts for thousands of affected families of natural disasters in Pakistan remaining in dire need of assistance with malnutrition a major problem.

Thus, there is an urgent need for the government to take a serious action against those who have been profiteering at the cost of the flood victims and at the same time to begin allocating funds towards development of infrastructure with the capacity to minimize the impact of flash floods.

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