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How Floods are Managed in Pakistan

It will be highly significant if efforts are made in order to improve disaster preparedness and then react according to the situation. That is the way to control, minimise and restrict the damages that floods can cause.

Foreword

Probability of natural disasters in 2012 has been higher. Previous eight months have already proved it right. Floods in California and north India, avalanche in Siachen glacier in Pakistan, wild fires in southern France, hurricane in Florida and cyclone in China have played havoc across the globe. Focusing on monsoon in Pakistan during 2012, the metrological department made the prediction of 15% more rains during 2012 monsoons. However, this prediction did not sustain for long and things went unpredictable. As July went over, it was notified that 40% less rains have caused droughts in many areas and water shortages can lead to huge agricultural losses. But in later half of August and early September, a new session of rains started affecting various parts of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, north east Balochistan, southern Punjab and Sindh as well. Apart from loss of life huge losses of infrastructure and agricultural land have been recorded as well. It was unprecedented and uncommon to have such intense rains in this season.

Blame of such unseen patterns of rainfall can be rightly put on climatic variations triggered by global warming. Serious concern is that being a developing nation are we so well equipped to beat the climatic variations and minimise our losses? It is tough to say yes. What Pakistan has faced in 2010 was enough to wake up government machinery to respond to such conditions. But quite unfortunately, the usual sluggishness is persisting and end result is catastrophe.

Measures taken to counter floods

In recent times, since NDMA and PDMAs have been opera tional it has become a practice that at district level contingency plan is prepared to counter the floods. In this plan, ‘pre-flood, during flood and post-flood’ measures to be taken are explained and deliberated upon. Establishment of Disaster Control Room that operates round the clock to facilitate the communication flow regarding flood. It is to ensure early warning. In pre-flood activities it is mentioned that before flood de-silting and cleaning of all the drains will be carried out by TMAs. Encroachments identified by the irrigation department in water channels will be removed.
 During flood most important thing is to carry out evacuation of flood-ridden masses, to determine how and where to establish camps for them, how to operate those camps, furthermore, how to coordinate with army, civil society, donors, NGOs, media etc when needed.

 This process is completed well before monsoon. Focal persons are nominated and responsibilities are fixed. During flood most important thing is to carry out evacuation of flood-ridden masses, to determine how and where to establish camps for them, how to operate those camps, furthermore, how to coordinate with army, civil society, donors, NGOs, media etc when needed. Moreover, managing medical facilities, dewatering and clearing of the affected areas is of vital importance. In post-flood activities, estimates of damages are made. Repair work is carried out. Furthermore, compensation is given after all estimates are made. This is a rough sketch of a contingency plan that is supposed to be executed in case of a flood emergency in a district. Now important thing is that when there is such an elaborated plan existing on ground, where things go wrong.

Loopholes in existing mechanism

First and the most important thing is that weather forecast given by metrological department has not been reliable. That is due to lack of technology; but, recently drastic changes in climate have become really hard to predict and rely upon. Moreover, it is a perception among general public that 2010 floods were not natural rather they have been engineered. Therefore, general public does not take flood warnings seriously. Secondly, there has been weak culture of disaster preparedness; rather major focus is on disaster management. For instance, anti-encroachment campaign begins just a month before monsoon normally. That makes it impossible to achieve desirable results. On August 22 three men died and many houses got damaged in a flash flood in Azakhel Payan, Nowshera. Those were also stationed in the river bed. There are seven watercourses running through Nowshera that enter river Kabul at different points.  All are obstructed by silt and encroachments. Whenever there are heavy showers upstream, there is a flash flood that causes damages of life and property. Similarly, human resource is not channelised well before time and available stock of required equipment is not calculated and maintained. Resultantly, when disaster occurs there are mammoth problems.
Thirdly, there has been weak coordination among various agencies. Administration does not know where army is operating and NGOs don’t know where they need to work. There is a very scaring example that in 2010 when Terbela Dam got filled, the army officials were almost ready to release the water back stream towards Nowshera that must have drowned areas of Khairabad and surroundings. But probably administration was not on board for that decision. Similarly, hundreds of NGOs, national and international came during 2010 but, till to date there has been rehabilitation work going on and many among most deserving remained deprived. That shows weak coordination. Fourthly, lack of quick response in post-flood rescue activities is a major problem. At times there is no cooked food available, sometimes there is shortage of tents, other day there is shortage of medicines and an outbreak of a disease is expected and innumerable transformers, bridges, communication lines are left damaged. Fifthly, misinformation, panic and unrest spread by unauthenticated news cause a lot of trouble and that also leads to politicisation of the event and causes more inconvenience for the flood ridden public.
 There is a dire need of de-silting of rivers, water channels in order to facilitate the uninterrupted flow of water. Moreover, there is a need of proactive and correct coordination among departments and agencies.
 End Note
Floods or any sort of natural disasters are beyond human control. Pakistan has been victim of many natural disasters in the recent history. To mention a few 2005 earthquake, 2010 floods, 2012 avalanche and floods are unforgettable. Pakistan being a subtropical country and having monsoonal climate is prone to floods. Moreover, variations in climate due to global warming cause serious rise and fall in the pattern of rainfalls. Ultimate result is that of loss of life, land, agricultural output and livestock. Owing to the technological and economic constraints, problems in Pakistan are bigger than the capabilities and potentials. Therefore, it will be very important for Pakistan to build its capacity in order to fight disasters. Disaster management authorities that have been working in the country have been doing their job well, but results are not that productive. Problem in fact lies in the understanding of the concept of disaster. There should never be a policy to wait and see until the disaster hits the area. Rather, we should be ready for any kind of disaster. To begin with, irrigation department has to play a very proactive role.
It has to identify, mark and ensure that all the river channels, flash flood routes and other passages are cleared from encroachments. It should be carried out after monsoon in order to ensure secure next year monsoon. There is a dire need of de-silting of rivers, water channels in order to facilitate the uninterrupted flow of water. Moreover, there is a need of proactive and correct coordination among departments and agencies, so that miscommunication can be stopped. There is a need of readily available machinery and equipment to successfully manage any catastrophic situation. Revenue department must identify all the areas that are encroached upon and must get them evacuated before monsoon season hits. Those areas must be clearly marked. There should be permanent camps which can be utilised during floods as rescue camps. Ample medical stock must be ensured well before monsoon so that in time of need, that can be utilised without unwanted delay. There should be set code in order to disseminate information regarding flood to the general public. Active involvement of district administration and collaboration with police, non governmental organizations and other stake holders can be very effective. In a nut shell, it can be said that disaster management is a full fledged discipline and it needs extreme importance. It will be highly significant if efforts are made in order to improve disaster preparedness and then react according to the situation. That is the way to control, minimize and restrict the damages that floods can cause.
By: Sikander Zishan

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