challenge: Flood disasters: is bad governance to blame?

September 25, 2022

Disaster management requires long term solutions that no government is willing to take

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he World Bank documented a flood-related loss of $22.5 billion to Pakistan’s economy from 1900 to 2020. Following the 2022 flooding alone, the UN secretary general has estimated a loss of about $30 billion. One-third of Pakistan’s territory is under water; over 1,500 lives have been lost with millions more displaced. The country is on the brink of an economic and social collapse. Could the repercussions of the floods have been less severe had policymakers acted more diligently?

In a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, experts on climate change have said they are “highly confident” that global temperatures have increased faster since 1970 than any other 50-year period in the last 2,000 years. During that time Pakistan has had over 15 prime ministers. To date no prime minister has completed a full term in office. This frequent change in leadership keeps the governments focused on short-term challenges to ensure support in the next elections.

Disaster management and climate change studies for data collection require long term solutions – the path no government has been willing to take. Influential people with vested interests have had a huge impact on policy decisions in the country. Since the 1990s the timber businesses have remained highly unregulated. This has led to rapid uncontrolled deforestation in the country. According to the World Bank, Pakistan lost over 10,000 square kilometers of forest area from 1990 to 2020. This loss of trees has reduced the water holding capacity of the soil, which has resultantly increased chances of flooding.

Policy makers often attribute lack of funding for inadequacies in climate related research and development in the country. In the last decade, Pakistan has received over $7 billion from the US alone. However, social economic indicators still present a perturbing picture. According to the World Bank, 39.3 percent of Pakistan is still in poverty, over 60 million people are illiterate, and the trade gap has only widened over the years. The country is in dire need for a Sarbanes-Oxley level reform in the governance of its public institutions.

Pakistan ranks 18 out of 191 countries by the World Banks’ 2020 Risk Index. The country lies in a temperate zone and is characterised by diverse climactic conditions and ecosystems. The ranking is a result of Pakistan’s exposure to earthquakes and flooding along with some exposure to tropical cyclones.


Gross negligence at the disaster management body was evident in this year’s floods, following which the government’s first response was to cry out to the international community. It has become increasingly evident that the authority exists only to whitewash the government’s lack of interest in funding disaster management initiatives.

Countries like Nepal and Vietnam, having similar risk profiles as Pakistan, have invested heavily in water management infrastructure to help cushion climate shocks. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s focus has primarily been on building dams. The government has tried to kill two birds with one stone. This policy of conservative water management has made the situation worse.

Dams are needed to guarantee sufficient water supply to drought-prone areas. Using them as primary defence against floods is a poor idea.

Dams are artificial water storages with limited capacity. When water flowing down is controlled, it reduces the imminent risk of flooding in low lying areas. With an ineffective disaster management system in place, this leads to an increase in illegal migration of people onto floodplains close to the river.

With glacial melting and unprecedented rains in the country, millions of people have been displaced. Damage to lives and homes could have been less had the governments implemented disaster management plans in time. It is clear the government must re-ideate its policies towards flood management.

Disaster management has been defined as “a process of effectively preparing for and responding to disasters”. Disasters are recurring events requiring 1) mitigation; 2) preparedness; 3) response; and 4) recovery.

In Pakistan, the National Disaster Management Authority was established following the 2010 floods. The authority has six provincial offices to cater to the unique climatic conditions in each region. It is evident that the focus of the authority is on the recovery phase. There has been little work done to mitigate or prepare for a potential disaster in the country.

Gross negligence at the disaster management body was evident in this year’s floods, following which the government’s first response was to cry out to the international community. It has become increasingly evident that the authority exists only to whitewash the government’s lack of interest in funding disaster management initiatives.

According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department, the country received unprecedented rains in early monsoon season, over 500 percent of the 30-year average. The government has used this fact to blame everybody but the local institutions. This is not a call for the government to accept the whole blame. But it needs to realise that the damage could have been less severe had policymakers acted in a forward thinking manner.


The writer is a risk analyst currently working for the IT governance department at a leading bank in Pakistan. She is a public policy graduate from the Suleman Dawood School of Business, LUMS



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