For the next monsoon, every district should develop a contingency plan with clearly defined roles for various departments and volunteers
he 2023 monsoon season is less than three months away. Wounds of last year’s devastation have yet to heal. The scale of the disaster was so enormous that it might take several years to fully rehabilitate the flood-affected communities. Sindh, where the floods did the most damage, is crawling back to normalcy at a snail’s pace.
Reconstruction and repair of more than two million houses, 8,500 kilometres of roads, 165 bridges, 1,750 culverts and 20,000 schools are a herculean task. Estimates suggest that more than five million people have gone below the official poverty line. Having poor human development indicators, rural areas of Sindh have suffered a serious setback in the aftermath of the flood.
Last week a civil society forum, Sindh Watch, organised a stakeholders’ dialogue titled, Will Sindh Submerge Again, to discuss the lessons from the last year and the preventive measures for the coming monsoon. Some senior government officials and technical experts spoke on various aspects of the topic.
The speakers said that while the province is still struggling to recover from last year’s shock, unkind weather this year can play havoc with the efforts. Although the weather outlook this year is not as menacing as last year, changing patterns can always spring a surprise.
The egregious experience of the last year holds a great deal of learning for Sindh. Early action on some of the weaker links can help the government as well as people avert emergency situations this year. Last year, areas bordering Balochistan had received a heavy downpour in July. This year, Sindh ought to have an improved coordination with the Meteorological and Irrigation Departments in Balochistan for timely forecast of river flows that may eventually reach Sindh. Floods in the Indus River are easy to forecast, however, this cannot be said of the hill torrents of Balochistan.
The flood protection bund next to Khirthar hills is the first line of defence for the right bank districts of Sindh. The next layer of protection is provided by the banks of Main Nara Valley/ Right Bank Outfall Drain. In some areas, banks of irrigation canals in flood plains offer an additional layer of resistance.
Last year, this array of flood protection failed before the gushing flows. Consequently, Khairpur Nathan Shah town was submerged and Mehar and Johi towns were barely saved after a nail-biting struggle by citizens, some elected representatives and government departments.
Rudimentary dykes were hurriedly built, fortified with local materials and raised every day to hold off surging waters. Inundation of Dadu, Bhaan Syedabad and Sehwan towns was precluded by applying relief cuts at Manchar Containing Bank and Larkana-Sehwan bund. There was hardly enough time to erect proper flood protection dykes around these towns.
A large area on the right bank of Indus turned into a vast lake from Hamal Lake in Kambar Shahdad Kot to Manchar Lake in Dadu. Aerial photographs showed an endless sheet of water merging the two lakes spread over more than 100 kilometres. Under the Sindh Flood Emergency Rehabilitation Project funded by the World Bank, the Irrigation Department has plugged all the breaches that occurred in flood protection network on right bank. Nonetheless, the department will have to be extremely vigilant and keep improvising vulnerable sections of the dykes. Readiness of machinery, material and trained staff will be crucial.
Last year, rain and flood decimated most barriers and battered more than 1.2 million people. Most of the government functionaries were caught unprepared. Rescue and relief operation thus remained clumsy. Evacuations were announced suddenly as there were no evacuation plans.
The District Disaster Management Authorities are practically non-existent. The government should notify all DDMAs and urgently provide them the required resources before the next monsoon.
Millions of people, including the elderly, physically challenged, pregnant women and children had to abandon their homes and walk for miles as the government couldn’t manage transport for the flood affected. There were no camps or tents for the homeless people.
Large columns of people lived under rickety shelters along the roadsides, raised grounds and embankments. Surrounded by several feet of water, these were the only dry spots where people could lay their feet. At the initial stage, the government had no arrangements to feed this humongous crowds.
Local philanthropists and some charity organistions were among the first responders till the government and internal aid agencies could organise their ranks and bring some relief assistance. For the first three weeks people endured extreme pain. Many were constrained to consume flood water.
Emergency health services, toilets and mosquito nets were a luxury. The chief minister admitted that the government could barely provide relief to 20-25 percent of the affected people.
Extremely heavy rain – more than 700 percent above the normal rainfall – in August 2022 caused urban flooding in several towns. Urban sanitation and drainage system in Sindh refuses to perform even during normal rain.
In many towns, water pumping machines were found dysfunctional. Streets and roads of major towns remained inundated for several days as pumping systems couldn’t drain out rain water. It is pivotal that pumping systems remain fully functional throughout the season. This requires active pumps and assured availability of power backup.
The trunk sewers should also be cleaned and all clogs removed so that they can drain some of the rainwater. Blocked natural waterways are a major cause of flooding. A comprehensive plan is needed to clear the path of rain and flood water. This is another gigantic challenge.
Preparedness is the foundation slab of emergency response architecture. Every year the government prepares a monsoon contingency plan. However, the exercise has become just a ritual over the years in the absence of matching readiness on the ground. The gap between the plan and action needs to be bridged.
This year, the government should have stockpiles of tents, food, water, lifesaving medicines, milk, sanitary pads, emergency lights, fuel, generators, etc, at safe locations. Arrangements should be put in place for swift dispatch.
Emergency evacuation vehicles, boats and life jackets are part of the standard checklist. If the government lacks capacity, it should seek human, technical and material support from international humanitarian organisations.
National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (NDMA/ PDMA) are the lead organisations for disaster preparedness and response. They should be made responsible for readiness on all fronts.
The District Disaster Management Authorities are practically non-existent. The government should notify all DDMAs and urgently provide them the required resources before the start of monsoon season.
Every district should develop a contingency plan with clearly defined roles for various departments, local NGOs and other volunteers. The DDMA should be the lynchpin for all activities pertaining to emergency response. All emergency services at local level such as Rescue 1122, police, hospitals, transport, public health, communication should be placed under the DDMA once an emergency is declared. The government need to act before the rains start.
The writer is a development sector professional. He can be reached at email@example.com