Wednesday November 29, 2023

Devastating floods

August 28, 2022

Several parts of Pakistan are inundated in water as torrential monsoon rains wreaked havoc in Balochistan, Sindh and southern Punjab. The government, on August 25, declared a ‘national emergency’ as the death toll rose to 937, including women and children. Nearly 33 million people have become homeless in flood-affected regions.

The most recent torrential monsoon rains and floods have caused widespread devastation in Balochistan and Sindh. The southern districts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) are also inundated in rainwater. The floods have caused widespread destruction in DG Khan and Rajanpur in southern Punjab, and Tank and Dera Ismail Khan in KP. Some areas in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) have also been affected by the flash floods.

At the time of writing this column, disturbing news of flooding came from Swat. Floods in the Swat River might cause large-scale damage to people living along the banks and in low-lying areas. The KP government has declared an emergency in Swat.

Crops and orchards on almost three million acres of land have been destroyed by the floods. The government has rightly declared the current situation in flood-affected areas as a ‘climate-inducted humanitarian crisis of epic proportions’.

The above-normal rains have led to flooding. According to the data released by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Pakistan received 166.8mm of rain in August against the usual average rainfall of 48mm in the month. This shows an increase of 241 per cent. The worst-hit provinces of Sindh and Balochistan received 784 per cent and 496 per cent more monsoon rains than normal respectively.

The unprecedented monsoon rains and flooding are a result of climate change. It is time to wake up to the challenge of global warming and climate change. Pakistan is among the world’s 10 most climate-affected countries. We need a national plan to address the issue of climate change.

Some cities and towns in Sindh received more than 1,000mm rain in the last two months. All major cities including Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkana, Mirpurkhas, Naushero Feroz and Khairpur are inundated in rainwater.

Balochistan is the worst-hit region where the floods have washed away roads, houses, bridges and dams. In many areas, the poor infrastructure has been destroyed. The province has been cut off from the rest of Pakistan as its roads and rail links got suspended due to the floods.

The public and goods transportation system is also facing serious problems as the main highways and bridges have been washed away in some areas. The local administration is facing difficulties in reaching the affected due to blocked roads and the poor condition of roads and bridges.

Millions have been displaced, and tens of thousands of houses have been either completely or partially damaged. Displaced families are living under the sky, without tents and food. Many flood-affected people are facing starvation and are vulnerable to catching serious diseases as they wait for relief from the government. The situation is getting worse. Millions of people urgently need food, tents and medicines. The current extraordinary situation demands an extraordinary response from the government.

A majority of flood victims are poor peasants, haris, small farmers, street dwellers and daily wagers. Most of them were living in mud houses, which are a symbol of hunger, extreme poverty and deprivation. Now that millions have lost shelter, livestock and livelihood, it means they will be subjected to even more misery, poverty and hunger.

The recent destruction is widespread and needs well-organized and timely action. Our response so far has been inadequate to deal with a disaster of this magnitude and scale. The federal and provincial governments need to focus on relief and rehabilitation work. We need to mobilise both the domestic and international resources to provide the much-needed relief to the affected.

The nation must forget about political interests and infighting and spend the next few months on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood-affected areas. The sky will not fall if different political parties and the provincial and federal governments join hands to generate resources for flood victims.

Political parties must postpone their political rallies, public meetings and power shows for a couple of months and donate this money for the affected. Joint appeals and effort for relief funds will encourage people from across the political spectrum to make donations. This will send a message of national unity across the country in these difficult times.

It is time for our national leadership to prove to the flood victims that we really care for them. Actions speak louder than words, and we should not fail our most impoverished and downtrodden people in Sindh and Balochistan.

It is our failure that these people are poor, marginalized and lack services and infrastructure because we kept them in such conditions for decades. We failed to lift them from abject poverty, backwardness and illiteracy.

A big chunk of the federal and provincial development budgets must be used for this purpose. We also need to fix priorities and ensure transparency and accountability in relief and reconstruction work. No compromise should be made on the quality of work, and there should be zero tolerance on corruption and embezzlement of these funds.

The story of Balochistan’s dams must not be repeated again. Poorly constructed dams with faulty designs collapsed and caused more damage. The dams were not maintained properly as pointed out by the CM Inspection Team in its report. Corruption and negligence cause damage.

A humanitarian crisis in the flood-affected areas of Balochistan, southern Punjab and Sindh is in the making. Without proper shelter, food and medical care, the lives of millions will be at stake. We need to act before it’s too late.

The writer is a freelance journalist.