As the monsoon season comes to an end in Pakistan, the rains have stopped, the hill torrents have dried up, the sun shines brightly and the rivers are flowing calmly but it is shocking to see, more clearly now, the sheer scale of destruction left behind by the floods.
33 million people in eighty-one districts of Pakistan have been affected by the deadly floods; from the northern areas of Pakistan down to the coastal belt of Sindh. 1325 dead, over 12000 injured, 735 kilometers of roads damaged, 246 bridges collapsed. 1.6 million houses damaged or destroyed, 750,481 cattle heads perished as reported by NDMA and 636,940 people forced to find shelter in temporary camps.
In the face of the widespread destruction, the government has announced its inability to cope with it effectively by itself and has made appeals for humanitarian aid. Although some countries have sent aid, so far it is like ‘a drop of water in a bucket’ as put by US Senator Robert Menendez speaking about the 53 million US Dollar aid to Pakistan announced by the USA.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has done a poor job in chalking out an effective contingency plan for the disaster. Their only output has been a rather shabby looking situation report made on a word document, uploaded daily on their website. The IT department at NDMA has not managed to create an effective database or web portal of the flood situation or the scope of the rescue and relief operation using a more advanced software which could allow the donors, media and stakeholders to comprehend the scope of the relief efforts and do a quick gap and need assessment. The result is that it is impossible to know the actual situation in the flood affected areas from any government data.
The bigger challenge at hand is the rehabilitation of the millions of flood affectees and the reconstruction of tens of thousands of their damaged houses before the onset of the winter season. The stagnant water has destroyed most sources of fresh water and consequently millions are now at risk of waterborne diseases because of consuming contaminated water. The situation is worse in places where water was already a scarce commodity.
PM Shehbaz Sharif has given a statement during his recent trip to the USA where he said that “there is a yawning gap between our asks and our needs which has to be bridged at lightning speed otherwise all hell would break loose”. This is an urgent appeal for help and also an admission of the incapacity of the government to deal with the aftermath of the floods by itself.
NDMA has not managed to create an effective database or web portal on the floods or the scope of the rescue and relief operation. It is impossible to know the current situation on ground.
Pakistan is badly hit by the impacts of climate change although it has just a 0.8 percent contribution in the global carbon emissions. It is only fair that the developed countries should compensate and pay their dues for their massive carbon emissions which is the major cause for climate change. But the problem is that there is no international law for climate justice in place yet, binding any country to pay compensation to the ones most impacted. In the absence of any such law the only thing left to do is to make an appeal for aid by the individual countries or through the UNO which Pakistan has already done. But what is missing here is any planning by the federal government as well as the government of Sindh and Balochistan as to how they would move into the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction phase. How do they plan to tackle the challenge of the reconstruction of 1.6 million houses? How to restore the livelihood of the flood affected people and how to make the communities more resilient for the next monsoons and floods.
Another important thing to understand regarding the damage caused by these floods is that these historic floods in Sindh were mainly caused by the torrential rains and these were not riverine floods. All the five tributaries of Indus River in Punjab were in low floods and Indus River itself was in medium to moderate flood for the most part. The floods caused by the torrential rains did not have natural drainage in many areas and that is why we saw the apocalyptic images of water standing up to three meters in cities and towns of Sindh including Johi, Sehwan, Khairpur Nathan Shah, Jamshoro and many others. The flood water breached many canals and caused widespread damage to the irrigation infrastructure also.
The stagnant water is a real danger for the agriculture land as it would make the land waterlogged and unfit for any cultivation for the next season or worst-case scenario, for more than one season. The farmers would not be able to cultivate the winter/Kharif crop this year in Sindh because the land is unfit for it at present. This is going to cause a major food shortage in the coming few months in the whole country.
There is nothing more important now than to ensure the food security of the country. The best time for the government to start making provisions for it was yesterday and the next best time is now. The federal government must procure wheat and other essential commodities from wherever they are available at the earliest.
The second most important thing is to make a realistic action plan for the reconstruction of the damaged houses so that the affected people are not left at the mercy of the elements in extremely vulnerable circumstances.
Especially in Sindh where the most affected population is still displaced, the government must bring all the stakeholders together, take stock of the resources, commission an immediate comprehensive damage needs assessment in all affected areas of the province, at the union council level and come up with a solid plan which must include the identification of all those areas where the infrastructure including houses, roads or farms restricted the drainage of flood water in its natural course and contributed towards worsening the disaster.
The reconstruction must be done and supervised at tehsil level for building houses made with more resilient indigenous materials avoiding all construction in the active flood plains or drainage areas.
The government must also do a vaccination drive of the livestock in the entire country on an emergency basis and also ensure the procurement of fodder for it for the coming winters.
It is prudent to declare a Climate Emergency in the country and all relevant departments including, irrigation, agriculture, food security, revenue, PDMAs and District and Tehsil administrations must focus on the protection and rehabilitation of the vulnerable communities, otherwise beware that another disaster has already begun.