Wednesday April 17, 2024

Pakistan and the floods

By Dr Shafqat Munir Ahmad
September 01, 2022

The 2022 floods have caused devastation beyond imagination. The unprecedented rains killed and injured more than a thousand people and damaged infrastructure, agriculture, and businesses. This has had a huge impact on the Pakistani economy.

The large-scale destruction has reversed the development gains of recent decades, and the country now lags behind the SDGs targets. The current destruction is more severe than what the country witnessed in 2010. Extreme weather patterns, which are a result of climate change, are reason enough for the government to prioritize mitigating the impacts of climate change through building resilience of communities and infrastructures.

An enhanced role of communities, community-based organizations, national, and international humanitarian NGOs will strengthen disaster risk reduction, preparedness and climate action in terms of adaptation and mitigation at the community level. Pakistan alone cannot handle this high-category catastrophe and should make a $110 million flash appeal through the UN.

Other donors and domestic philanthropists are also requested to contribute. Once known for its resilience against floods, the nation is no longer resilient as Covid-19, unbridled economic woes, food and fuel inflation, and price hikes have marred much of its capacities.

Different heart-wrenching reports from flood-affect areas have highlighted the misery of the affected. Help couldn’t reach these people when the rains were wreaking havoc in province after province. Politicians and social workers expressed their helplessness as the non-stop heavy rains had disrupted communication channels, exposing the resilience of communities and rendered them vulnerable to the ensuing natural hazards. Although the economic losses and damages are still being calculated, all we know is that over a thousand people including over 300 children and 190 women have reportedly been killed and over a thousand have been injured.

According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), over four million people in 116 out of 160 districts across the country have been impacted, and half of them are living in relief camps. A majority of flood victims need shelter, food and other essential items such as tents, utensils, mats and beds. Over 670,000 houses have been completely or partially destroyed. Over three thousand kilometres of roads and 145 bridges have been damaged.

The massive floods have washed away over two million acres of crops and killed over 794,000 cattle, causing the loss of livelihood and food. The people have lost their belongings – even food stocks – and savings as water swept away their homes and villages. The agriculture, agri-business and other sectors of the economy have been damaged, and this will cause further economic slowdown.

The losses and damages due to the floods caused by climate change need to be met from national and international resources, and the migration of displaced people should be taken seriously. This is a full-fledged humanitarian crisis compounded by the already existing crises such as Covid19, food and fuel inflation and unemployment. It is time to act as a nation, leaving political differences aside. Both the federal and provincial governments cannot respond to this catastrophe despite mobilizing all resources on their own; philanthropists, NGOs, INGOs, development partners and political parties, leaving their vested political interests aside, should join hands to steer the nation out of this grave humanitarian crisis.

The rehabilitation and rebuilding of affected areas is going to be a gigantic task which will require resources from outside donors. The amount required for reconstruction is going to be far greater than the amount spent after the 2010 floods. While responding to the current floods should be top priority, the country equally needs to plan for future emergencies too as the country will keep facing the brunt of climate change in the future.

Pakistan must make a strong case to access the Climate Adaptation Fund and other climate financing to meet its losses and damages (a subject within climate deal) and the cost of ensuing climate migration, rebuilding, and resettlement of the displaced. At COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, it was decided that besides reducing their carbon emissions and reaching net zero by 2050, rich countries which are big polluters would provide climate finance to those countries which are facing heavy losses and damages in disasters and hazards caused by climate change.

Pakistan needs to back up its mitigation and adaptation strategy by financial resources. It also needs to create a congenial atmosphere for international humanitarian actors (INGOs) which were disallowed to function in the country in November 2013. Most of them had to shut down their operations and wind up the contingency stocks they had put up in flood-prone districts across Pakistan. Millions of dollars in humanitarian aid were coming on a regular basis not only for emergency response but also for community-level preparedness through community-based disaster risk reduction programmes.

When the last batches of these INGOs were closed almost a year ago, the then government was of the view that if any emergency hit the country, it would invite some of those INGOs back for only six months to support humanitarian response. This was again a weak argument. Why would such organizations come back and build their contingency plans and stocks when they knew they would have to go back in six months?

Pakistan needs to realize that it cannot handle humanitarian response and rebuilding on its own; we need global humanitarian actors/players who are trained to implement 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour emergency response plans amid big catastrophes. The country has to take global and national humanitarian NGOs on board so that they can generate resources globally and spend them in Pakistan as the government’s flash appeal may not always fetch sufficient sums. INGOs raise funds from global philanthropists and donors, and they can extend their support to the government, local community-based organizations and national NGOs for humanitarian response. They can also provide training to the communities to prepare them against future disasters.

The NDMA and the government should ensure that contingency plans and stocks are ready at the district levels with back-up supplies from provincial and national contingency stocks to meet 24-hour response standards to reach out to the affected and at-risk population. Had we learnt lessons from the 2010 floods response and rehabilitation and rebuilding, we would have built raised structures. Unfortunately, we still lag in prioritizing adaptation and mitigation practices to prepare our communities to withstand disasters and climate change. ‘Building back better’ has only been used as a phrase and not as a reality.

It is time we learned from the past and planned for our future as we have no escape from ensuing disasters. In the short run, we have to immediately rescue and rehabilitate the affected, utilizing our available resources and getting support from the international community. Pakistan needs to evaluate itself in terms of implementing the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction adopted by the global community in March 2015.

The country needs to align its disaster risk management policies in line with the global principles and in accordance with local needs. In the mid and long term, Pakistan has to make its development risk-sensitive by focusing on constructing raised buildings, roads and rail infrastructure so that they can withstand flash floods and provide safe shelters to the affected. It must prepare communities to cope with emergency situations through strengthening early warning systems and inclusive evacuation strategies.

The writer is an Islamabad-based policy specialist, research fellow in resilient development at the SDPI and heads Infochange. He can be reached at: