Our policy makers will have to adjust themselves to the demands of rains and flood-affected areas
Many laughed it away when a couple of years ago climate change gurus professed that Pakistan would be one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. Recent floods in Sindh and Balochistan did prove that seasonal variations due to climate change may not be ignored any more.
There is a visible change in rainfall pattern in Eastern Sindh. The average annual rainfall in district Badin used to be 120 to 280 mm. During the last few years, it increased to 440 mm, 560 mm, and this year Badin received a record rainfall of 1100 mm. The increase in average annual precipitation is also observed in Rajhisthan as well. One may say that weather changes due to seasonal variations are bound to happen. Natural calamities are hard to avoid. However, as I keep on repeating, a right set of policies and actions on those policies can stop getting the natural calamities turning into human disasters.
Meteorology department had already predicted about the possibility of sporadic rains in Sindh during the months of August/September. We also knew that like most parts of the country irrigation infrastructure that got damaged during last year’s flood has not been repaired to take care of more water.
The flaws of controversial left bank outfall drain (LBOD) are already known to us. LBOD was designed for saline water drainage only when the average yearly rainfall in Sindh never exceeded 280mm. Its carrying capacity is 6000 cusec ft. The rainwater is simply beyond the carrying capacity of LBOD. Even if it were not recent heavy rains and there were no design flaws in LBDO, the mere fact is that drain was blocked. There was no silt removal from the drain for ages. There was no unhindered flow of water in that drain anyway.
Badin is dead flat almost at sea level where the flow of standing rain water to sea would be a problem due to lack of natural flow. Things are getting further aggravated due to Kirther range (hills and elevations) from Khairpur to Hub. There can be at least four small hydel dams in that range. Rain water from Kirther range, coming towards lower Sindh, has the tendency to turn into flash floods.
Flash floods are very common in Balochistan too and this year again they have displaced a sizeable population in Balochistan, especially in Naseerabad district. Why is the NDMA not paying any attention to the flood affectees in Balochistan?
Unfortunately, despite the devastated floods of last year the government is still unable to come up with its flood policy and flood zoning. There is a big question mark on coordination of relief activities. NDMA is there but provincial and district disaster management authorities are non-existent. The later two were supposed to frame disaster management plans at district level. Obviously, when the institutions are not functional, the plans are not there either.
Initially, when the rains started everyone undermined their intensity and the government very clearly declared that it would not go to international community for a flood relief appeal. However, this appeal had to be made at later stages. As was expected, the response of international community is quite cold: partially because they face disaster fatigue in Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan is facing disasters in a close succession since 2005; earthquake, Balochistan floods, internally displaced people of Swat, last year’s floods and now floods again. Thanks to the lack of preparedness on our part, we are gradually losing sympathies of the international community.
Another factor responsible for cold response from the international community is lack of a meaningful effort on government’s part to highlight major success stories in previous disasters. There must have been some good examples that may be shared with the rest of the world, showing how resilient we are. International community is also blank about individual and private charity. What to talk of contribution of individual donors, the international community is not properly aware of the role that organisations like Edhi Welfare Centre have played in relief and rescue efforts. All these efforts should be highlighted to prove that we the 180 million commoners are not beggars.
INGOs are also not able to deliver this time. There are visa restrictions on expatriates of various INGOs. If they do not come to Pakistan on an assessment mission how can they mobilise their humanitarian wings to deliver in the time of need.
One thing that concerns me most is that we have started tackling disasters at provincial level too. Dengue fever is supposed to be the problem for Punjab only and floods are only to be taken seriously by Sindhi politicians. I wish we could rise above these provincial prejudices and support the people in disaster.
Finally, I would again mention lack of effective policy responses. I remember that last year former advisor to CM Sindh made this excellent suggestion that opportunity should be availed to “rebuild better” the scattered goths of Sindh. His suggestion was that three to four hundred basic houses should be constructed in an elevated place in each deh (comprising of few goths). Inhabitants of small hamlets in Sindh should be settled in those newly constructed houses. This would have been cost-effective not only from disaster preparedness point of view but also from service delivery point of view. However, two feudal lords (parliamentarians) in that meeting strongly opposed that idea, partly because they had the fear to lose their control over their tenants.
I wish if Premier Gilani had not tried to gain political popularity through promising to dole out money via Watan Cards. He never had the fiscal cushion to pay the promised 100,000 rupees and that scheme is literally abandoned after release of first installment of Rs20,000. The same amount could have been more wisely spent.
The writer heads Sustainable Development Policy Institute and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org