Can the government come up with a strategy to deal with them?
Once again, the floods have hit Pakistan. Chitral is a bad case of the inability of successive governments to plan ahead to deal with the recurrent natural disaster. Floods of Indus River and Chitral River have led to hundreds of villages going under water. Dera Ghazi Khan and Rahim Yar Khan were badly hit and many houses destroyed in Kalash Valley, according to the reports. “According to details, the embankment at Rasulpur area of Rahim Yar Khan could not bear the pressure of the flood wave and broke down, causing several areas including Rasulpur, Kacha Mahazi, Kacha Chohan to inundate.” Eight villages, the report states, in Muzzafargarh area were affected.
As is usual with us, local administration in areas set up relief camps. Army is out to salvage and rescue areas that are badly affected. Emergency was imposed in Chitral. The report states, “The heavy rain in Azad Kashmir’s area of Bagh has caused the Mahil and Malwani drains to flood. This has resulted in inundation of land spread across hundreds of acres whereas several roads have been disconnected because of the land sliding. In Balochistan’s Harnai area, Narri River bank also has flood-like situation.” Sindh has suffered, as have Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Since 1950 till 2015, Pakistan has been hit by over two dozen major floods, claims another report. The 2010 floods inflicted upon Pakistan a loss of $43 billion causing huge economic damage notwithstanding the human losses and cascading destruction. According to Thompsons Reuters Foundation, “The Pakistan Economic Survey shows that Pakistan lost a total of 3,072 lives and $16 billion to the floods in 2010, 2011 and 2012.”
According to an editorial by Pakistan Today, “According to the alert the heavy monsoon was concentrating in Sindh where up to 500,000 cusecs of water was already flowing down the Indus at Guddu and Sukkur and the upcoming downpour could aggravate the situation.”
“The biggest failure in national integration and development has been the inability of this nation to harness its water resources. We have only developed 28 days of water storage. Countries store up to 900 days of storage. India has constructed over 200 days of water storage on its rivers. Imagine being surrounded by water and you have to choose whether you save your 80-year-old mother or your 8-year-old daughter,” says Dr Salman Shah, former caretaker Finance Minister of Pakistan.
The weather has changed. Unexpected onset of monsoons, heavy downpours have caught the federal and provincial governments on the back foot at the cost of the hapless masses. Added to this is release of more water by India (as reportedly happened in 2013) that added to the misery of flood stricken Pakistanis. In 2013 “India released 170,000 cusecs of water early on Monday, forcing issuance of high flood warning for Sutlej River near Kasur. Around 84,000 cusecs water, released from Ferozpur Headworks of India, has entered Pakistani limits and will pass through Ganda Singhwala near Kasur. Meanwhile, 170,000 cusecs of floodwater in Ravi River has wreaked havoc in Sahiwal, destroying mud houses and standing crops spread across thousands of acres. The floodwater from Nullah Dek entered Kamoke after playing havoc in Narowal‚ Pasrur and Gujranwala‚ inundating 100 villages.” (Pakistan Today, August 19, 2013)
According to a report by the Scientific American, “Some five years since its inception, NDMA has proved largely ineffectual in the emergency response, instead leaning heavily on a nonprofit called Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) for advice and training. SPO advocates for disaffected populations but has also been busy setting up disaster early warning systems in various parts of the country, mainly to protect vulnerable areas from cyclones.” (October 16, 2010)
There are steps the government must take to ensure minimum damage owing to floods. In order to take measures of dealing with the calamity, the responsibilities of all stakeholders must be clearly defined. These are the government, the relief providing agencies, local community measures and determining upon standard operating procedures in case of such a calamity. Although effective emergency coordinated efforts between the players can go a long way in reducing peoples’ miseries, it is just not enough.
Forest plantation is one good method to stop soil erosion and a step the government must pay attention to. In one of my op-eds I wrote, “An absorbing article by the Sunday Herald of Scotland states, “If Pakistan’s authorities continued to allow the country’s timber mafia and a benighted and oppressed peasantry to strip the country’s forests at a faster rate than anywhere else in Asia, as is happening, floods of biblical proportions would be inevitable. They would not be acts of God. They would be man-made catastrophes.”
Published August 29, 2010, it goes on to say, “Trees felled by so-called illegal loggers – an infamous “timber mafia” that has representatives in the Pakistan Parliament in Islamabad and connections right to the top of government and the military – are stacked in the innumerable nullahs [steep narrow valleys], gorges and ravines leading into the main rivers. From there they are fed into the legal trade, earning the mafia billions of dollars yearly…. But this month the mud and water deluge cascaded off the tree-bare mountains and hills with exceptional force and barrelled down towards the plains in mammoth fury.”
“These mountains, gorges and gulley are the usual areas of upper Indus River track, meaning thereby the Kohistan, Hazara and lower Gilgat-Baltistan regions. Traditionally, the riverine forests have always been a check on floods but unfortunately, in the last two decades or so, massive deforestation has taken place. Once dense forests are now totally denuded giving pathway to floods and devastation.” (February 11, 2014)
Rainwater harvesting is a wonderful method of stopping excess water falling into rivers. The government can look into diverting excess water of one river to the other by controlling the river paths, because of either rain or release of extra water by India. In due course of time, maybe another few decades, the glaciers will melt leaving us dependent on rainwater. The amount of rainwater Pakistan is allowing to go waste without any concern towards its conservation is criminal. I am a witness to rain harvesting and its amazing effects. A renowned architect of Lahore Kalim Siddiqui of Kalim Siddiqui Associates has used this system in his home in Lahore. The gardens are a treat to watch. Trees that were planted a few years ago have shot up to double the usual height of the trees grown on regular water. The lushness and greenery is incomparable. As a matter of fact, this was what made me go into in-depth research of rainwater harvesting.
The Centre of Excellence of Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India,describes in detail the traditional method of water harvestings in India. An extremely interesting aspect of the paper is building solutions around the nature of source of water, as it is different for different sites in India and develop the kind of method needed to conserve the rainwater for future use. The study is worth a read.
The study discusses rainwater conservation in Western Himalaya to Eastern Himalayas and to the Brahmaputra Valley to Indo-Gangetic Plains and others. The study acknowledges that rains bring in floods and instead of wasting this opportunity to destroy everything coming in its wake, this must be converted into a source to be used upon need. In 18 of the India’s 28 states, it is mandatory to include collection systems in new buildings. Whereas Pakistan has just set up its first Urban Rainwater Harvesting System in Islamabad. The plant at Faisal Mosque is designed to recharge water table for residents of the city as well as provide clean drinking water.
In Tharparker, where rainwater is the only source of drinking water owing to shortage of water, the Sindh province worked with IRADO to construct a check dam and earthen water harvesting bunds to store rainwater. Coca Cola funded the project while UNDP gave technical support and guidance to the project.
What Pakistan government needs is to strategise. To develop the rainwater harvesting scheme nationally. To convert flood waters into an opportunity.
Can the government strategise?
Floods in Pakistan | Yasmeen Aftab Ali