The way out

November 20, 2022

The state has to chalk out a rehabilitation strategy for the flood-affected people so that scarce resources are not wasted

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E

ven great natural disasters retain the attention of the public and the media for only a few days. The concern tapers off within a few weeks even as human misery continues and sometimes gets worse.

The recent floods in Pakistan are an example. When floods were destroying properties, and ruining crops the entire nation started donating relief items and distributing those among the affected people. The government was active too and major leaders visited the affected areas. The international community was alarmed by the huge losses.

The official estimates put the flood related losses above $30 billion or Rs 6,600 billion. These losses are only Rs 800 billion less than the total tax revenue we expect to generate this year. The government of Pakistan obviously lacks the capability and the capacity to arrange the amount needed for covering the flood-related losses.

For a long time the emphasis following a flood disaster has been on providing the affected people a temporary shelter, food and medicines so that they can survive till some permanent arrangements for their rehabilitation can be made. The government always seemed to lack the resources but some arrangements were made by cutting allocations for development projects; assistance received from other countries and multilateral agencies also helped. This phase has now passed.

The task was enormous as the floods affected over 34 million people. Most of them lacked even temporary shelter (tents). Some were given up to Rs 500,000 to rebuild their homes. A majority of the affected population did not even get adequate food.

In some places, the flood water is still standing. Apart from the loss of life and property about 30 percent of the standing crops were destroyed. Of the three main crops at various stages of growth, the cotton crop was completely destroyed (the cotton plant does not survive standing water).

About 30 percent of the coarse rice crop was affected (the rice crop has a greater tolerance for standing water); the sugarcane crop was not significantly affected. The farmers lost over a million cattle. A large number of goats and sheep were swept away by the flood waters. There were huge losses in poultry. Another problem faced by the farmers was that no food was available for cattle and other livestock. This resulted in more casualties in this sector.

Now that the floods are over, and barring a few areas, the water has receded, the 34 million affected people need the resources to reconstruct their homes. They also need seeds, fertilisers and other inputs to cultivate new crops. They do not have the resources to buy these inputs. Above all, they need adequate healthcare for their families and livestock.

Now that the floods are over and, barring a few areas, the water has receded, the 34 million affected people need the resources to reconstruct their homes. They need seeds, fertilisers and other inputs to grow new crops. They do not have the resources to buy these inputs.

The flood affected regions are home to gastro-intestinal diseases. The threat of malaria and dengue fever is high. They also need healthcare for the surviving livestock. On all these counts delivery from the NGOs is negligible.

The state has to chalk out a rehabilitation strategy so that resources, if somehow made available, are not wasted. They should take a cue from the rehabilitation efforts after the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods.

Following those disasters, overseas Pakistanis had pitched in for help in large numbers. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait and some Western countries had built earthquake-proof structures, including government buildings, universities, schools, hospitals and residences. These counties had not provided cash but had executed these projects through certified contractors and NGOs. Overseas Pakistanis, too, had established some residential colonies and schools on their own.

It will be a grave mistake to rebuild residences in the flood affected regions at the same place. There may be a similar flood again next year or a few years later. The government must permit reconstruction on higher ground.

The cropland cannot be shifted but experts must analyse the reasons behind for the scale of disaster. Where canal and drain breaches caused or exacerbated disaster the weak points must be strengthened. Where breaches were deliberate and meant to protect the property of some influential people at the cost of large populations, deterrent action must be taken against those responsible.

Where there is a need to raise the embankments it should be done immediately. The state should also look for ways to ensure that water recedes quickly after floods the way well-planned cities are free of water within hours after the heaviest rains.

Agricultural extension workers must be deployed in the flood-affected areas and monitored through GPS technology. Their expertise should help the flood-affected farmers at every stage of cultivation of the crop. Not all actions on the agriculture front require huge amounts of resources.

Major resource commitments are needed for housing and rehabilitation of infrastructure that has been destroyed by the floods. There is no point in spending the resources on the infrastructure that will be wiped out in the next floods. The government should prioritise the infrastructure projects. A plan must be made to build the infrastructure in such a way that it can withstand historical floods.

Resources to rebuild the infrastructure are going to be scarce even with generous donations. Priority must be given to projects that will facilitate more people.


The writer is a senior economic reporter



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