Long-term rehabilitation is taking a lot longer due to procedural, financial and political challenges
year after the catastrophic floods of 2022 international aid continues to arrive. In view of the estimated losses and damage of $30 billion, the inflow of international aid has been remarkably is sluggish. Despite the big gap between the need and the aid, every single dollar is valuable.
Last week, Pakistan received an assistance of CHF3 million ($3.38 million) from the government of Switzerland. The governments of Pakistan and Switzerland have signed a memorandum of understanding to improve natural disaster prevention and response in Pakistan as described in a press release of the Swiss foreign ministry.
The MoU and the assistance are part of an initial assistance package provided by the Switzerland following the floods last year. Swiss specialists were then deployed to carry out immediate repairs and restoration of access to drinking water. The agreement was formally signed by Switzerland’s Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and the National Disaster Management Authority chairman.
The MoU will allow for greater collaboration between the two countries, particularly by pooling resources, knowledge and experience in disaster-risk management. The prime minister of Pakistan has expressed optimism for receiving Swiss cooperation in obtaining an advanced warning system and other devices to enhance Pakistan’s preparedness against natural disasters.
Switzerland experienced epic floods more than 150 years ago when the banks of its lakes and rivers were broken, bringing many parts of the country under water in 1868. The water level of Lake Maggiore reached 200 metres, the highest ever pond level, while the San Bernardino received 1,118 millimetres of rain in eight days. The catastrophic deluge killed 51 people and the damage was estimated at approximately CHF40 million.
The calamity prompted a paradigm shift in the disaster management approach. The Swiss government set about to tackle the root causes of the devastation. Switzerland moved from local solutions and adopted a regional approach. It built confinement barriers and protective measures. Learning from this tragedy, new laws and measures were adopted for sustainable exploitation of forests and for the protection of inhabited areas, communication routes and major infrastructure.
Last year in Pakistan, Sindh was the worst-hit province. More than 12 million people were affected by the flood. Most of them remained displaced for several months amid a lacklustre response during the relief phase. Early recovery was relatively better when breached dykes were repaired, major roads were restored and farmers were provided subsidies that resulted in a remarkable harvest of staple wheat crop this year.
Long-term rehabilitation, including measures like rebuilding more than two million houses and opening blocked waterways is taking longer due to procedural, financial and political challenges. Housing subsidy and livelihoods restoration have taken off recently after a rigorous process to ensure transparent use of resources. Although these needs are critical and should have been addressed earlier, some institutional requirements were inevitable so that precious resources reach the most deserving of the affected people.
Blockage of natural waterways was a major cause of flooding last year. For example, parts of Thari Mirway taluka of Khairpur Mir remained inundated for several months as the old waterway (dhoro) was occupied by villages, cropland and elevated roads. Several towns and villages of Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Badin remained flooded for several days because natural path of Puran River has been obstructed by the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD).
Inappropriate alignment of spinal drain of the LBOD impeded natural flow of rainwater to the Run of Kach that caused ponding and exerted enormous pressure on the LBOD dykes. Any breach in the LBOD drain could have wrought havoc on more communities. The risk was averted through strict monitoring and on-ground management by the Irrigation Department.
The LBOD needs adequate underpasses for a smooth flow of Puran River, which becomes an active river course following heavy rains in its catchment. These underpasses have been designed but funds have not been allocated to complete these structures before the onset of monsoon.
Together, donors like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank have contributed more than $2 billion to rehabilitate critical public and private infrastructure and restoration of livelihoods in the worst flood-affected areas. These are mostly soft loans that materialised as an outcome of swift follow-up mainly by the provincial government.
The United Nations general secretary made passionate appeals to the world community after he personally witnessed unprecedented hardship endured by the flood affected communities. In January, Pakistan hosted a donor conference with the United Nations in Geneva that elicited an upbeat response. The donors pledged more than $9 billion against an exigency of $16.3 billion. However, these transactions have not been as swift as was needed.
Soon after the Swiss assistance, the ADB and the IDB provided about $665 million to finance the Rs 195 billion Flood Protection Sector Project-III (FPSP) to build resilience in the country against climate change impacts. However, the overall response has remained unimpressive. Given a post Covid-19 global recession, the Ukraine war and humanitarian assistance needs in the war-torn Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, the aid flow to Pakistan has not picked momentum.
According to the UNOCHA’s financial tracking service, last year Pakistan received $343.9 million assistance against the $472.3 million requirements with a shortfall of 27 percent. A coinciding economic meltdown in the country added to the problems of the affected population.
The monsoon season has begun. Luckily, the weather prognosis by the Meteorological Department is not very bad this year. The Monsoon Contingency Plan of the Sindh Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) refers to the weather forecast by South Asian Climate Outlook Forum and Pakistan Meteorological Department that envisages low rainfall and higher temperatures due to El Niño effect.
However, raised temperatures are likely to cause more snowmelt in the upper Indus basin that can generate the runoff, potentially causing medium to high (350, 000 – 500,000 cusecs) flood in parts of Sindh during July–September. This quantum of flood can submerge the katcha area (flood plain) of Indus where sparse human settlements are located and some agriculture is undertaken.
Historically, these settlements have consisted of temporary structures, allowing people to move out during flood and return after the water has receded. However, this pattern has changed over the decades due to the declining frequency of medium floods in the post-Tarbela dam years. Based on this forecast, the Sindh PDMA has estimated that a population of 93,000 is likely to be affected in case of medium flood in the province.
For high flood scenario, the likely-to-be-affected population has been estimated at 408,000 people. This is an optimistic scenario based on a relatively dry monsoon. Pre-monsoon and early monsoon rains in all provinces have sounded an ominous warning for the provincial governments to remain alert.
The writer is a civil society professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org