Mapping the unmapped

November 13, 2022

Pre-disaster recovery planning builds resilient communities, better able to withstand and recover from disasters

Mapping the unmapped


hile the government was focusing on political unrest and trying to shore up the struggling economy, a climate catastrophe unfolded with frightening speed.

Widespread flooding in the southern parts of the country caused supply disruptions and pushed the year-on-year price of essential consumer items up by 44.58 percent according to the Bureau of Statistics. The scale of devastation is shocking and unprecedented; at one stage, over a third of the country was under water.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reported that 33 million people were affected. 84 districts have been officially notified as “calamity hit,” 1,696 confirmed deaths have been reported, 2.45 million houses have been damaged or destroyed, and more than 1.1 million livestock have perished.

Many have fallen below the poverty line. It is hard to determine how long it will take for them to rise above it. Integrative losses like through the slowdown in the economic activity and knock-on effects on the cost of living are still to be mapped and measured. Most officials expect losses to the tune of $40 billion. The disaster of epic proportions has urged those in power to carefully evaluate the needs of the vulnerable and precise statistics that provide accurate numbers of the affected and the magnitude of the impact they have endured.

The State Bank of Pakistan has previously highlighted the potential economic and financial effects of extreme weather events associated with climate change. Agricultural losses could affect the manufacturing and services sectors. The 2021 financial stability report states: “Stress at a systemically important financial institution or correlated strain across smaller institutions could transmit the pressure throughout the financial system.”

Poor communities are the first victims and often left behind to shoulder the burden of risk, exploitation and disasters. The exclusion of such communities is never adequately addressed by governments. The home-based and cottage industries depend heavily on these unmapped, informal sector workers.

These floods have urged the government to reach the unreached in order to quantify the loss and damage that the floods have brought. According to initial estimates by the UNICEF, around 3 million children have been affected by the floods. UN’s OCHA estimates that around 1.6 million women of reproductive age, including 130,000 pregnant women are affected.

Months after floods and rainfall, rescuers are having difficulty getting to several communities. So far, 9.5 million affected people have been reached. Another 20.6 million are still to be contacted. This week, the government of Pakistan has cut its estimates for economic growth by more than half. Pakistan has a tough time mobilising resources.

The NDMA needs to collect comprehensive dynamic data on river and dams. Some colonial era canals and flood protection works require renovation.

The system’s capacity absorb/ spread out floods has diminished over time. Three out of four outfall drains in Sindh are dysfunctional. Additionally, the forecasting radars are unable to detect extreme weather.

Thus, it is not only the population that is unmapped but also some of the water bodies. During the last decade, the marshes had vanished from the floodplains as farming and construction activities expanded. No reliable database was created to quantify the damage.

In Sindh, rainfall in August was nine times more than the national average. A pre-disaster management approach needs to be embedded into the disaster risk re-education strategy.

Looking at the provincial and federal coordination considerable duplication of effort can be observed.

Despite the establishment of National Flood Response and Coordination Centre (NFRCC), the scale of coordination required among the provincial, national and international relief agencies and non-state welfare organisations is missing.

The revised flood response plan has highlighted that 14.6 million people need food security, twelve million need shelter, 8.2 million need healthcare, 7.1 million need nutrition and 6.3 million need water, sanitation and hygiene. This calls for more coordinated efforts at the federal, provincial and local government levels.

Public health situation is getting worse after the outbreak of malaria, cholera, dengue fever, waterborne diseases and skin infections. Serious interventions are needed. Integrated Disease Surveillance and Reporting System (IDSR) is currently unimplemented in many of the calamity-hit districts. A health emergency needs to be declared in calamity-hit regions to curtail the damage.

As the NDMA focuses only on post-disaster scenarios, pre-disaster planning and management is missing from the policy framework. The capability of a community to effectively manage recovery from a disaster begins with pre-disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery capacity building.

Pre-disaster recovery planning builds resilient communities, better able to withstand and recover from disasters, ensuring faster rebuilding, greater community cohesion and more effective city operations in the rebuilding phase that follows a disaster.

Planning can also enable more effective and rapid access to the state and federal disaster resources, including finance. For this, District Disaster Management Authorities should go deeper: to tehsil and union council levels. A bottom-up trajectory of disaster risk reduction should be followed.

The NDMA and the DDMAs must work with international donors and private agencies. Pilot projects on community preparedness for disaster risk reduction should be designed at the union council level. Indigenous knowledge needs to inform scientific research.

Successful pilot projects must then be replicated at the provincial, regional and national levels. A strong sense of responsibility at the government and community level is important.

The writer is a policy consultant based in Islamabad

Mapping the unmapped