As a result of the highest rainfall ever recorded in the country’s history, more than half of Pakistan is under water. Millions of people have been rendered homeless, over a thousand have lost their lives and thousands of others are injured or missing. There is also a looming famine with almost all crops ruined by the rains. Needless to say, Pakistan is facing a severe crisis coupled with the country’s balance-of-payments crisis, the situation becomes grave.
The responses to any disaster can be divided into three separate, yet often overlapping categories – short-term, medium-term and long-term. The short-term response is, of course, to save lives, provide shelter and food to those affected and try to prevent further destruction. Once the weather settles down the next job is to rehabilitate people, provide them with some source of income, education facilities for the children and so on.
It is the long-term response that is extremely crucial in shaping the future course of events in the country. Given the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, fields and any type of infrastructure, Pakistan will obviously have to rebuild. However, we must not only build back but rather build back better.
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A few elements of this broad term are listed below
1) Smarter Construction: Time after time we have read the consequences of building up on ill-suited sites and using sub-par material. Now that we have to reconstruct much of the country, it is crucial to ensure that the material used is of good quality, and that construction is not done on riverbanks, near airports or in other high-risk areas. This will not only save numerous lives but also mitigate material losses in face of future natural disasters.
2) Environment-Friendly: Although Pakistan contributes less than 1% of Greenhouse Gases, it is amongst the top countries affected by climate change. It is about time we take this threat seriously, and realize that we are on our own to counter the problem. We need to focus on mitigating risks through measures like forestation, reducing carbon emissions, shifting to cleaner energy sources and reducing pollutants.
3) Effective Agricultural Strategy: For far too long our policymakers have ignored the structural problems facing our agricultural sector and tried using ill-placed subsidies as a magic wand. As a result of malpractices, Pakistan has become a net food importer. With the floods destroying most of our remaining agricultural land, the food shortage and resulting inflation are likely to get worse. There is a dire need to focus on solving the structural problems our farmers face by providing incentives for planting staple crops to reduce foreign dependency, giving easy credits to small landowners, employing techniques like crop rotation and providing training for efficient use of water.
4) Vertical Urbanization: It is needless to say that we need to build a lot of houses in a tight budget. The best way to do this is through vertical urbanization. Rather than building many individual houses, we can opt for strongly built apartments that will take lesser space while providing shelter to a larger number of people. With smarter planning, basic necessities like markets, schools, and hospitals can be built closer to the apartment buildings to cut down carbon emissions and leave more space for agriculture.
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5) Building Dams: Perhaps the most important step that we need to take once the situation eases is building a number of small and large dams across the country. For too long, we have ignored this critical element owing to political differences, but we have no more time to drag our feet on this. Ironically, a couple of months back, we were facing drought in many parts of the country, that is now flooded. If we had more dams, we could store large amounts of water that could be released when a drought-like situation occurs. Dams can also produce large amounts of hydroelectricity, reducing dependence on imported fuel.
6) Equitable Development: As we rebuild our country, it is crucial to ensure development is equitable across provinces and regions. We have already seen how due to lower development in Balochistan and Sindh these regions have been worst hit by floods. The regions that have been neglected for decades should now be our top priority.
This list, of course, is not exhaustive. A number of more things are to be taken into consideration by not only our policymakers but rather all of us. We need to come together as a nation and ensure that proper planning and efficient rebuilding are carried out by those in power. We have to build pressure on our elected officials to not ignore these issues any further. However, there is little that the government can do alone, given its meager resources.
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Private capital owners, builders, landowners and those people who find themselves at the top of the socio-economic hierarchy, all have to join hands and support the government. We are a strong nation, but climate change will not spare us, and no institute can fight it alone. All of us have to collectively play our part to build back a better and more resilient Pakistan.
The writer is a Management Sciences graduate and an aspiring civil servant. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.