Months into the devastating floods, those affected in Sindh continue to struggle with the basics – food, shelter and medicines
cars from the apocalyptic floods of 2022 are still fresh; the healing is painfully slow. A report issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the first week of December portrays a grim picture of the flood affected communities. According to the report, flood waters continue to stagnate in large swathes of ten districts in Sindh. The United Nations Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) imagery indicates an estimated 8 million people are potentially exposed to floodwaters or living close to flooded areas. the Provincial Disaster Management Authority of Sindh reports that over 240,000 people in the province remain displaced. A report by the UNICEF says that an estimated 14.6 million people need food assistance, while over seven million children and women need immediate access to nutrition services. These figures are a reminder to decision makers and humanitarian community that the worst has not yet subsided. These figures are just the tip of the iceberg.
It is impossible for the statistics to fully describe the heart-wrenching stories of human misery. Agonies endured by people can only be understood when one meets a sobbing mother bursting into tears while recalling how she lost her child in the flood water.
Sindh, the worst flood-affected province, is disadvantageously located at the tail end to receive run-off of the entire country. Luckily, this year, flows in the Indus remained within safe limits. However, the astounding rainfall and spate flows from Balochistan brought a deluge of extraordinary quantum. Due to a very gentle slope, gravity flow remains slack in Sindh. Many of the centuries-old water ways have been encroached upon by human settlements, crop land and road network that lacks adequate cross-drainage structures. Two major drains, the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) and the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD), have suffered from substandard planning and maintenance. The LBOD has obstructed the natural flow path in Badin-Mirpurkhas area whereas breaches in the RBOD became the root cause of devastation in Dadu, Qambar Shahdadkot and Jamshoro districts. A gushing flow from Balochistan made its way to Sindh from Kirthar range and eventually reached Manchar lake that was bursting at the seams. The relief cuts were made in embankments and roads to avert inundation of Dadu, Bhaan Syedabad and Sehwan towns but only after flooding of dozens of villages near Sehwan that became an extension of Manchar Lake.
Four months later, the flood affected are still struggling with food, shelter, medicines and other basic needs. The chief minister has admitted that the government was able barely to reach 20 to 25 percent of those affected. Inflow of international aid has also been sluggish. As compared to the $3 billion dollar aid received in 2010, this time Pakistan has received less than $500 million. The Ukraine war has shifted strategic focus of the donor countries, who were generous to Pakistan in 2010 when the country was under the global limelight stemming from the Afghanistan imbroglio. Major humanitarian organisations have also left Pakistan due to a stifling regulation of foreign funding to non-governmental organisations. Some of the international NGOs are still assisting the government with their meagre resources and limited outreach. An unaccounted yet considerable relief was contributed by local philanthropists and traditional rural society support systems. It will not be a misplaced surmise that primarily it was the local charity that precluded a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Amid the dismal situation the World Bank has recently approved a $1.69 billion loan for flood rehabilitation in Sindh. While it has kindled hope for Sindh, people are sceptical if the government machinery will be able to utilise this money in a judicious and efficient manner. The government of Sindh should devise a transparent and inclusive implementation strategy for these projects.
After a lacklustre performance during the rescue and relief phase, rehabilitation is a window of opportunity for the government to demonstrate its ability and commitment to restore and improve the lives of millions of flood ravaged people. A transparent and holistic rehabilitation plan is a clear exigency. Politically motivated or hastily implemented rehabilitation will defeat the objective of building back better. Sindh needs a medium- as well as a long-term plan to respond to the situation. Increasing climatic vulnerability of Sindh merits an integrated flood mitigation and management plan for Sindh. Any disjointed and fractured remedies will only provide fleeting relief. A long-term strategy to manage perpetuating flood disasters requires a well-coordinated set of actions. The proposed rehabilitation plan ought to include construction of storm drains, maintenance and extension of the LBOD, completion of the RBOD scheme, improvised flood protection embankments, flood proof houses and community services with flood resilient settlements, properly engineered roads with adequate cross-drainage structures, an agile Rescue 1122 service, organised communities, restoration of blocked waterways, an empowered and well-equipped local government/ administration and an efficient health services system. Sindh also needs to integrate its flood management plan with Balochistan which drains its floods as well as agriculture run-off to Sindh through Kirthar range.
The writer is a humanitarian sector professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org