Recurring Floods and Disaster Management in Pakistan

Introduction | Pakistan is one of the countries highly affected by the climate change phenomenon. Pakistan is exposed to multiple forms of natural and manmade disasters. Natural disasters range from earthquakes, floods, droughts, cyclones, landslides, and sea-based hazards. These disasters result in colossal losses almost every year. But, unfortunately, the matter is still at the lowest priority for the government. This provides a grim picture of the state of affairs and poses distrust on the continuation of outdated policies. As recent monsoon rains and the resultant flooding inundated most part of Punjab, this piece will basically focus on disaster management in Pakistan with special reference to floods.

Disastrous Floods

In the past few years, Pakistan has been hit by massive floods. In 2010 Pakistan was struck by its worst-ever natural disaster; one fifth of the country was inundated by floodwater causing massive damage to infrastructure. But, it is quite perturbing that no lesson has been learnt from history. Once again torrential rains have taken heavy toll on the country as sudden floods across Punjab and Kashmir have wreaked havoc leaving countless people deprived of their valuable belongings.

Government’s Ineptness

It looks as if in Pakistan numerous episodes of flood were not sufficient to wake us up from deep slumber. Unfortunately, the magnitude of our laziness is greater than that of these floods.

It is to be noted that the biggest — and the most deliberate — mistake made by the government is to term these floods a natural disaster. It is true that the annual monsoon rains are a natural phenomenon but the flooding they cause is entirely preventable. Pakistan has been hit by nearly 21 major floods over the past several decades, which caused severe human, financial and infrastructure loss. Faced with such devastating impacts of floods, one may assume that the country now has a comprehensive disaster management plan that can handle such natural calamities. However, it is not less than a heinous crime that no robust and pragmatic plan has been devised yet, and people still continue to suffer.

Causes of the Fiasco

In August 2013, the World Bank issued a policy note entitled “Managing Natural Disasters” by Haris Khan and Marc Forni which lists the following causes for poor disaster management in Pakistan:

1. Weak institutional capacity for DRM

Lack of preparedness, poorly executed emergency responses, and weak institutional systems to manage disasters have undermined government credibility among its citizens. Pakistan has, though, begun to institutionalize and mainstream DRM activities, yet still much work remains.

2. Lack of coordination and clarity of roles

The roles and relationships among federal and provincial entities—including the Floods Commission, Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, National Disaster Management Authority, and PDMAs—lack clarity. These bodies do not agree on which of them are ultimately responsible for understanding disaster risk.

3. Limited understanding of disaster risk

Policymakers and DRM practitioners lack the ability to define the occurrence and impacts of disaster events, including floods, droughts, and earthquakes. A comprehensive multi-hazard risk assessment tied to risk mitigation efforts has yet to be undertaken for Pakistan.

4. Weak integration in government planning

The government’s focus needs to shift from response to preparedness and risk reduction. This is partly because the costs of pre-disaster investments and mitigation measures are significantly less than the post-disaster costs of rebuilding. But these investments are not currently prioritized due to the difficulty in quantifying the benefits of such interventions.

5. Poor communication of risk information

A wide range of actors in DRM convey messages on disaster risk. Lack of a single, coordinated message has led to confusion and misinformation over the risks faced and the measures to be taken to increase resilience and response capacity.

Another Cause

Besides our own follies and ineptness, there is another political dimension to the flooding. The water wars being fought by Pakistan and India invariably get uglier whenever there is flooding. This is because of fears on our side of the border that India is releasing excess water from its dams. India’s dam-building has made our water situation worse as it can dry up our supply when needed and release more water during times of flooding.

Learning From the Past

It is absolutely ridiculous to note that the Federal Minister for Water and Power, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, claimed while speaking in the National Assembly that “MET Office officials had predicted below normal rainfall during the monsoon season and preparations were made accordingly.” The heavens be praised! This is the level of competence of our ministers. Devastating floods from 2010 onward are not a story of the previous century. Shouldn’t have the government been better prepared to cope with the situation even if the lame excuse of the minister is accepted as true? Were the highly-paid officials of numerous state organs sleeping?

Role of NDMA

National Disaster Management Authority, in its report of 2010 floods entitled “Pakistan 2010 Flood Relief – Learning from Experience: Observations and Opportunities” observed:

“Effective Disaster Management and preparedness is critical to the safety and wellbeing of the people of Pakistan. This requires the support of Federal and Provincial Governments and all stakeholders. Disaster response itself must be a ‘one-window’ operation. To achieve this, it is imperative that roles and responsibilities are clearly mandated and the designated key agency is empowered to lead the process of ensuring more cohesive coordination. In addition, the capacity of key organizations needs to be strengthened urgently.”

But, believe it or not, we are back to square one. As the floods play havoc, the federal agencies supposed to jointly manage the disaster are blaming each other for whatever goes wrong. The rapid filling of Mangla Dam has been questioned, so is the poor coordination among the flood protection agencies as well as acting on ‘unreliable’ information about flood data supposedly provided by India. If government’s inability to deliver a timely aid is any indication, then be assured that the losses and miseries of people will keep on exacerbating in the coming years.

How to Improve?

1. The government should develop a fairly efficient system of flood warning and providing relief to the affected population;

2. Canals should be de-silted and the banks of waterways should be strengthened;

3. There should be sound planning to deal with the worst scenario

4. All technological, institutional, and policy options should be used to prevent any such disaster in future;

5. A robust flood policy, integrated water resources management framework, and Indus Basin flood plan following integrated river-basin approaches are the most called for;

6. Government should rationalize organizational roles and bring about radical institutional reforms;

7. A special emphasis should be paid on increasing revenue for the maintenance and management of flood protection infrastructure.

8. Linkages between city emergency centres and current disaster management structures at federal, provincial and district levels should be established.

9. There is also a need to ensure systematic methods are in place for collecting disaster risk information in future.

10. Government should ensure that the NDMA, the PDMAs and District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs) fulfil their mandated roles and responsibilities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *