Last year’s devastating floods caused enormous losses. The authorities need to identify and address the causes of these disasters
he wounds from the devastating flood are still fresh a year after the catastrophe. Sindh, the worst-hit province, is still struggling to recover from the shock of unprecedented disaster. The province received a baffling monsoon rainfall in excess of 400 percent over the 30-year average. Rainfall in August was in excess of 726 percent compared to the average rainfall during the month. Not prepared for such rain and flood, Sindh government’s rescue and relief efforts fell short of the needs on the ground. The chief minister acknowledged the government’s failure in providing relief to the entire flood affected population. A massive province-wide relief operation was launched but a forensic audit conducted under instructions of the Sindh High Court revealed misappropriations and embezzlements. Hue and cry over not receiving adequate support and capture of relief distribution by local elite was ubiquitous.
Loss of lives was also enormous. More than 1,000 casualties, including 445 children, were reported in Sindh. Over two million houses in Sindh were damaged or destroyed, making 89 percent of the nationwide losses to housing stock. The province also lost over 20,000 school buildings, which is over 60 percent of total school buildings in the province. Rural economy of Sindh, mostly subsistence level farming, was disfigured as more than 436,000 cattle heads perished and more than 3.7 million acres of crop land was affected. The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report estimated financing needs of Sindh at around Rs 1.69 trillion. It would not be easy for any government to repair such a huge stock of infrastructure and rehabilitate a flood affected population of over 12 million. The process entails an unavoidable time lag.
Amid a tepid response by international aid agencies and traditional donor countries, the provincial government resorted to seeking financial support from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. A donor conference was organised in Karachi to mobilise resources for rehabilitation of flood affected communities. With a considerable aid inflow from the aforementioned sources and by realigning its own annual development plan, the provincial government was able to repair critical infrastructure within a year. In his budget speech for 2023-24, the chief minister referred to the World Bank-supported Sindh Flood Emergency Project (SFERP) and announced that the government had plugged 208 breaches and rehabilitated 11 small dams. Similarly, the chief minister mentioned that the Asian Development Bank-supported Emergency Flood Assistance Project to improve 805 kilometres of flood/ rain affected roads. In the budget 2023-24, the government has made significant allocations for flood rehabilitation projects. On behalf of the federal government the prime minister announced first Rs 25 billion and then another Rs 12 billion allocation for the purpose.
The early recovery phase seems to have been better managed than the rescue and relief stages. A significant achievement has been a bumper harvest of wheat in the post flood Rabi season. The government had provided a Rs 5,000 per acre subsidy to more than 173,000 small farmers having up to 25 acres land. Under the subsidy scheme more than Rs 5.5 billion was disbursed. A major incentive to motivate farmers to growing wheat was the support price raised from Rs 2,200 to Rs 4,000 per 40 kg. These incentives seemed to have worked well and wheat was sown on over 3 million acres.
While the provincial government moved swiftly to repair critical infrastructure, long-term solutions to mitigate flood disasters are coming slowly. Construction of underpasses along the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) to ensure a smooth flow of Puran dhoro near Mirpurkhas has not started. The LBOD blocks flow of Puran dhoro at several locations. This had caused backflow of Puran and inundation of Jhudo area last year. The Irrigation Department plans to construct three underpasses. The project, however, has not taken off so far. Construction of these underpasses will eliminate the risk of backflow in Puran dhoro. Several other natural waterways (dhoras) are similarly blocked and cause flooding in various districts.
Last year’s flood was triggered by torrential flows on the right bank of Indus, mainly from Balochistan and Khirthar mountain range in Sindh. Another important project, the Right Bank Outfall Drain, has been practically abandoned. The drain has to divert water from Manchhar Lake to the sea. This year, no allocation was made for the completion of the remaining work. The project for increasing the capacity of Aral Head regulator from 10,000 to 52,000 cusecs will also provide relief to the population around the Manchhar lake area. Last year, the area was flooded due to a breach and a relief cut to save Sehwan town. With increased capacity of Aral Regulator, it will be able to evacuate flows from RBOD and Manchhar Lake to Indus at a faster pace if the flows in the river are not high.
A critically important project is the reconstruction of houses. The government of Sindh has announced financial assistance for construction of over two million houses. The construction work has just begun. The restoration component for implementation of livelihoods will also start soon. It is expected that flood rehabilitation projects will gain momentum in the coming financial year. The government should assign priority to long-term solutions to address root causes of disaster.
The writer is a civil society professional. He can be reached at email@example.com