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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Lessons from 2022 floods in Pakistan

Across Pakistan, torrents of floodwater have ripped away mountainsides, swept buildings off their foundations and roared through the countryside, turning whole districts into inland seas. More than 1,100 people have died so far, and more than one million homes have been damaged or destroyed.

While the capital was packed with political bickering and power politics, the major part of the country was reeling from devastating rain which proved to be a scourge later on. The impoverished communities were seen crying as they saw their entire livelihood and shelter damaged due to unstoppable heavy downpours. The provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, with already fragile infrastructure, were facing havoc as their entire living systems came to a standstill due to this unprecedented rain in Pakistan. Similarly, the most neglected part of Punjab, “South Punjab”, was also hit by an unwanted catastrophe.

This kind of serious issue got traction in media houses only after a period of five to six days, when most of the damage was done. However, rescue efforts are going on in different parts of the country with an uncoordinated response. To think about the rehabilitation process is like foolhardy attempts to fly in the sky as it will take years to repair the damage which is more severe than the 2010 floods and 2005 earthquake. After witnessing this kind of natural calamity, it is time to introspect and observe major loopholes in our system that could not withstand such devastation and shed light on some potential solutions for its improvement.

Read more: Stop blaming God, environment, and India for floods in Pakistan

The major loopholes in our system

1. Poor infrastructure development due to short-term policies: Unfortunately, there has been no implementation of the long-term development plan for cities. The major arteries and thoroughfares give the look of a flowing valley after becoming inundated due to only a short span of rain ranging from 30 to 50 minutes. Thus, people face obstacles while wading through these arteries as they become unmotorable.

Similarly, the building control authorities in collision with real-estate owners approved the illegal construction of apartments and homes on already choked waterways which severely restricted the flow of sewage water. Hence, inundation of roads with sewage water has become new normal for the public without knowing the dangers posed to them due to water-borne diseases.

2. Climate change on the backburner: When the country does not prioritize the complex phenomenon of climate change and puts its entire energy on mudslinging, doom and gloom are in sight. I still wonder why we do not treat climate change as an economic and security threat when it is threatening us in the form of an unprecedented catastrophe.

Our obsession with just making climate change policy and mentioning climate change as a non-traditional security threat in national security policy documents needs to be stopped. Rather than this, it is high time to put our energies into the materialization of these policy measures with a core focus on inter-departmental coordination and a whole of a governmental approach that will lead to trickle-down effects of major policy decisions on the masses.

3. Zero contingency Plan: Our tendency to believe in a reactive approach in managing the crisis rather than pre-emptive planning leads to a zero contingency plan. In developed countries when there is the forecasting of any foreseeable disaster, the entire state machinery gets into emergency mode to forestall that disaster. However, in Pakistan, our authorities wake up only when disaster strikes. This leaves a question mark on the role of national and provincial disaster management authorities as disaster preparedness and evacuation planning are their niche.

Read more: FM Bilawal requests funding from the IMF to combat floods

4. Uncoordinated relief efforts: As the relief efforts are going on in different parts of the country, one can easily see that every donor agency is pursuing its own relief activities with no joint mechanism of coordination where one can focus on the proper distribution of perishable goods and monetary donations with zero possibility of its siphoning off. Thus, a platform like National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) is the need of the hour.

5. Absenteeism of feudal lords and local politicians: When the election season comes near, the local politicians along with the feudal lords of that area approach the people to support them politically. However, when any disaster strikes the downtrodden people, these politicians enjoy their lives in the posh downtowns of Dubai and the US on the money of their voters. Even if they arrive in these affected areas, they do this for photography sessions, distributing money in peanuts, which itself is a reflection of an insult to the already affected population.

6. Paucity of health camps: Along with relief camps, it is also necessary to arrange health camps for regular health monitoring of flood affectees as they are living in cramped spaces, and there is the possibility of disease outbreaks. Already, there are reports that dengue and malaria are spreading like wildfire in flood-affected regions. So, the health dimension of disaster management must not be ignored.

What should be done?

After highlighting these grave loopholes, it is time to put light on some potential solutions. In the recently released movie by Amazon “Thirteen lives“, I was amazed at the national response of the Thai government, forged in collaboration with international volunteers in saving the lives of thirteen teenagers stranded in a long cave inundated with rainwater due to the monsoon season. However, the same response can be replicated here if we swallow our pride during a national emergency and disallow our political compulsions. It is time to learn from such mistakes and improve our system.

Read more: Pakistan declares emergency as floods swallowed 34 more lives

First, it is necessary to focus on city and regional planning with a sole focus on sustainable development. Second, climate change adaptation and mitigation should be the topmost priority of our government. Third, disaster management authorities need to take stock of their policies regarding disaster preparedness and mitigation efforts. Last but not least, local politicians should show some responsibility and provide succor to the flood affectees by visiting their villages as leadership in a crisis is the need of the hour.

 

The writer is an environmentalist and Independent researcher. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.