WEB DESK: Despite its limitations courtesy its outdate weather forecasting technology, Pakistan’s Metrological Department has forecast higher-than-average rainfall over parts of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Azad Kashmir and north-eastern Balochistan that could cause high flooding of the catchment areas of the major rivers and the adjoining localities.
Though this forecast has yet to crystallise in Sindh in its predicted intensity, it was hardly the reason to delay a comprehensive strategy for confronting the flood tragedy. But corruption, cronyism, and mudslinging don’t leave our politicians much time for fulfilling the obligations they accept while taking oath as parliamentarians.
The Federal Flood Commission wants implementing pre-emptive measures at the earliest for the safe passage of floodwater-preparation that is reflected in the awful state of embankments of the canals and rivers near small towns and villages across Pakistan. Example: after increased inflow into the river Indus, villages near Sukkur have been flooded and hundreds rendered homeless.
Karachi’s rainwater drains remain ‘flooded by garbage’ that hasn’t been lifted for months because municipal authorities didn’t bother about lifting it; instead is set on fire dangerously polluting the nearby localities. The Chief Minister’s order of cleansing of these drains in an unbelievable period of “three days” only after the forecast of heavy rain on July 12 and 13 didn’t crystallise. Some show of realism and urgency, wasn’t it?
Given the long-nourished limitations of the garbage collecting systems, nothing could be done in three days. Now the Sindh government has assigned this task to a Chinese company at a huge cost of $168 million. Isn’t this yet another admission of incapability as well as absence of vision, because garbage could be converted into fuel for energy generation?
Given this profile of civil administration, it is no wonder that Pakistan has an unending track record of being unprepared for limiting the damage monsoon-triggered floods cause although, during these tragedies, human casualties and assets destruction rises every day because more inundated areas become in accessible due to ceremonial preparations for confronting the flood tragedies.
A crucial area wherein regular repair work can minimise flood losses is dredging of river beds and using the silt there from to increase the height of the embankments. But floods have progressively become more destructive because every winter this operation is carried out mostly on paper because doing so enriches some individuals in the provincial irrigation departments.
That’s why state offices go on under-reporting the losses; reality is exposed only by independent surveyors. In 2011, UNICEF had estimated that, in Sindh alone over 2.5 million children were affected and loss of property and livestock was widespread. Subsequently, National Disaster Management Authority confirmed that in Sindh alone 7 million citizens were affected besides thousands in South Punjab and Baluchistan.
Thereafter, in September 2011, the then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that around 2 million houses were damaged wholly or partially, and cattle loss exceeded 64,000. Besides, 80 percent of the standing crops were damaged. He then sought UN assistance in rehabilitating the displaced, and aid from the “Friends of Pakistan” for repairs of the damaged infrastructure.
The unprepared district administrations seemed helpless in organising rescue operations because millions of the affected human beings needed shifting to dry land in distant locations because, for miles at a stretch, areas were flooded preventing the setup of camps in close vicinity, but since the road network too was flooded, this task couldn’t be undertaken quickly enough.
This shocking scenario in villages was worsened by the incompetence as well as sheer dishonesty of the district authorities in distributing rescue materials to the affected people. There were instances of the donated rescue material not being distributed while it rotted in makeshift storage facilities, or was given only to the favourites, or was whisked away to markets where it was sold.
There were cases wherein low-ranking NDMA staffers were caught stealing the rescue goods. Instances of the flood-affected people storming the venues where rescue material was stored, were witnessed almost daily, but worse still was the instance wherein the private guards of a Sindh MPA killed two flood-affected individuals who were demanding the rescue materials.
Because district administrations were unprepared, emergency transport arrangements weren’t there nor was the ware withal for building temporary shelters, storing food items and drinking water, movement of mobile health units, and fumigating of the areas where the rescued were shifted. These essentials were provided to only a tenth of the affected, leaving the rest at the mercy of nature.
Scale of the tragedy in Sindh defied quick rescue, but conditions worsened since the flood-affected couldn’t get clean drinking water. The bigger failure was not providing medical aid to thousands who had no option but to drink contaminated water and suffer from diarrhoea, gastric illness, and malaria caused by mosquitoes breeding on the stagnant rain water over hundreds of square miles.
In Punjab, the spread of dengue fever exposed another harsh reality; with its population exceeding 8 million, its medical services proved wholly inadequate -even now hospitals there can’t accommodate even 4,000 patients in an emergency. Surely, this failure could be much worse if Karachi, with a population of 20 million, has to treat even 10,000 patients in an emergency.
In 2010, Pakistan suffered a flood tragedy that should have taught district administrations crucial lessons. Reportedly, they had prepared rescue plans thereafter for confronting future flood emergencies, but despite all such claims, district administrations without exception, performed poorly, and families recovering from the effects of the 2010 floods were affected yet again.
Karachi’s districts too performed as badly; the rain inundated the city’s key arteries including I.I. Chundrigar and M.A. Jinnah Roads. Economic activity virtually froze between September 12 and 14.In the low-lying areas, streets remained inaccessible for days because they were submerged under a mix of rain water and water oozing out of overflowing sewage lines.
Due to poor line-laying work done by linemen of the Discos (that left live wires un-buried in the pavements, even along main thoroughfares in many place) several pedestrian were electrocuted. The municipalities created another risk for pedestrians by leaving open many gutters; covered by rain water, these gutters were invisible and many fell in them damaging their limbs.
Yet, in almost every case, district administrations blamed the Met Office for late warning about the coming tragedy but the Met Office insisted that heavy rains had been forecast well in advance. Besides accusing the Met Office, politicians kept accusing each other in a Zulfiqar Mirza vs. MQM vitriolic debate, disregarding the miseries of the flood-affected.
After district authorities failed to organise and execute rescue work, its load was shifted on to the armed forces. Soon after joining the rescue efforts, ISPR disclosed that over 10,000 people were evacuated, 20 tons of rations were distributed, 12,000 families were moved to safer places, over 2,000 were treated for illnesses, and these rescue services continued for weeks thereafter.
Whether heavy or mild, monsoons mandate preparing for their damaging consequences; this hasn’t been done even in cities and towns, let alone the countryside, as reported by the media, and as expected, the first victims of the floods are the habitants of Sindh’s small towns and villages located near canals and rivers. It seems that the Army may again have to come to their rescue.
Calling in the Army for rescue work after every natural disaster reflects poorly on the civil administration – the failure that they never bother about. After the descent of the post-2008 version of democracy, failure of civil administration in this context (besides many others) was ensured by paralysing the local government system. Three cheers for this version of democracy!
In this setting, that ignores the up-grade of weather forecasting system and rescue services (example: miserable state of Karachi’s fire-fighting department), a repeat of the 2011 flood tragedy is likely. But who is bothered? Our politicians can’t agree even on the TORs for probing the Panama Leaks; foot-dragging on political issues is their expertise, not resolving peoples’ misery-escalating problems.
Some harsh facts:
A harsh truth that was ignored during the past decade was that the monsoon belt gradually shifted westwards from Rajasthan to Sindh and will go on shifting towards Baluchistan. So, in future, Sindh, Punjab, Eastern Baluchistan and KPK will suffer from heavy monsoons mandating concerted efforts to repair canal banks and shifting village populations to higher locations, and in cities, regular cleansing of the sewage networks.
Besides, emergency rescue and medical services must be expanded, which calls for substantial outlay of resources in these services – transport and whole variety of rescue equipment, training the staffers in its use, regular emergency drills, revival of the Boy Scouts movement (and first aid drills) in school and colleges.
Civil administration can’t pass these obligations to the armed forces that already have enough on their hands, given the threats to Pakistan’s internal and external security. Finally, unless district authorities accept their primary share in these services, they lose their right to tax the citizens – a harsh reality that they coolly overlook.
4. Manpower availability for rehabilitation: Transporting younger farmers to their villages to fix tents, and then repair basic infrastructure – water pumps, medical dispensaries, streets, shops.
5. Food adequacy: Ensuring availability of dry food stocks for at least the next three months.
6. Finally back to the villages: Transporting senior farmers and families back to their villages.
7. Revival of economic activity and life routines: Re-opening of shops and businesses dealing in essentials.
8. Putting farming back on track: Transporting seeds, fertilisers and pesticides for distribution to the farmers.
Imperative concessions and subsidies:
— Exemption from land revenue but only on the next crop.
— Extending repayment period of existing bank loans until the reaping of the next crop.
— Relaxing the terms of fresh lending for the next six months – loan pricing, tenor and adequacy of collateral.
— For the next crop, availability of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides on concessional terms.
— Availability of agricultural tools/implements at reduced prices and, where possible, on 6-month credit.
Rehabilitation effort must also ensure building stronger infrastructure:
The rehabilitation effort must also build stronger infrastructure – higher, wider and stronger river embankments, stronger bridges, wider and better access roads, higher, better and stronger silos, and more well-staffed healthcare centres. Sadly, the effort after the 2011 floods achieved none of the above.
Besides this repair work, what must be ensured is that, during the winter every year, the river beds must be dredged in reality, not on paper as the case now, to ensure deepening of the river beds for accommodating higher quantities of water, and the silt dug out of the river beds must be used to raise the height of the river embankments, which is the single most important guarantee of containing the future flood tragedies.
Sequence of steps in rehabilitation effort:
The resources that will be required:
— Transport vehicles, both light and heavy, and fuel for them.
— Road repair material and power supply networks – cement, concrete, sand, cables, transformers, connecting materials, insulators, poles, etc.
— Manpower expert, skilled, and unskilled.
— Tents, poles, and ropes, etc.
— Portable cots with essential bedding items.
— Stocks of dry food.
— Stocks of medicines, especially for treating dengue fever, cold, cholera, dysentery, fever and eye and skin infections.
Sequence of steps in rehabilitation:
1. Road repairs: Transporting materials for road repair and power supply network, food, beds, tents and medicines for labour that will repair the affected roads.
2. Access to flood affected villages and town: Road repair and building of temporary bridges (boat bridges over rivers but know the limitations of these bridges; only light transport vehicle can travel on them).
3. Availability of essentials and their security: Transportation of tents, dry food, essential medicines and land repair tools/equipment to villages, their storage, and adequate availability of security personnel – the police.
Source: Business Recorder