When rain breaks loose

September 14, 2014

Floods in the country have left hundreds dead and are forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes

When rain breaks loose

Morning of September 6, 2014 was nightmarish for Hasham Tariq, a resident of village Karamabad, situated near Wazirabad on the bank of Nullah Palkhu. Three days of continuous rain brought down the roof of his old house.

Suspecting danger, he, along with his wife and two children, had moved to a relative’s house the night before.

But, the evening proved to be even more nightmarish for Tariq, as the bulging Palkhu flooded the area surrounding it -- inundating  his house with no less than five feet of water.

Floods have affected almost all of central Punjab and are now heading south. The floods have hit the people of central Punjab, who experienced a medium scale flood last year, more intensely this time.

According to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the death toll has already reached 200 and 400 at leastpeople have been injured. Out of 36 districts in Punjab, 25 have been affected. Approximately, 2,115 villages and more than 6,000 houses have been submerged. Crops on 800,000 acres have been ruined by water with a large number of cattle swept away.

Among the most affected areas are Gujranwala, Sialkot, Wazirabad and Hafizabad. Head Marala faced the largest water magnitude of about 900,000 cusecs. Nullahs linked with the head Marala were over flooded and the water swept everything in its way.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir have faced record disaster, unprecedented in the last 20 years, with 64 people dead, 109 injured and 30,034 affected in 10 districts.

In Gilgit-Baltistan, 14 deaths have been reported.

Also read: Flood on the peaks

The floodwater in Chenab has hit southern Punjab and there is exceptionally high flood level, above 600,000 cusecs, at Head Trimmu with a likely peak discharge of 800,000 cusecs, according to Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD). Districts Multan, Muzaffargarh, Khanewal, Jhang and Toba Tek Singh are under severe threat. Pakistan Meteorological Department has forecast that River Indus at Guddu and Sukkar is likely to attain a very high flood level, ranging between 600,000 to 700,000 cusecs on September 15 to 16. If this condition persists, districts Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Ghotki and Sukkur will be inundated.


Media reports suggest that early warnings could have averted this disaster. And, NDMA officials defend their lack of preparedness by saying that the PMD had forecast 23 per cent below normal rainfall in September but it rained much more than normal, up to 400mm in some areas.

However, Chief Meteorologist Flood Forecast Division, Muhammad Riaz says the concerned departments were warned well in time, adding that the warning can be given about 6-24 hours before the danger. "We worked hard to warn the concerned departments well before time. The largest magnitude of 900,000 cusecs passed through Marala on September 7, and we issued the warning on September 3," adds Riaz.

He says the overall rainfall recorded so far is 23 per cent below average. It poured abnormally in areas like Lahore, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi. But, the current flooding is not due to excessive rains in these areas, he explains, adding, "The flood water came from India and, despite our efficient met system, we could not predict the magnitude of floods," regrets Riaz.

Experts are of the view that the water management system of Pakistan is incapable of coping with such huge disasters. Urbanisation along waterways has worsened the situation. According to an estimate, the damage caused by the 2010 floods was five times the total budget of Pakistan.

Ministry and policy

Pakistan is among the top three countries most vulnerable to climate change. Although the US, China, Canada, India, Argentine, Philippine and other parts of the world face heavy rainfall, flooding and storms, still, due to their resources and better planning, the damage is lesser and the process of rehabilitation and reconstruction is speedy.

Pakistan launched its first National Climate Change Policy in 2013, but unfortunately, it has remained unimplemented. Also, till 2013, there existed a Climate Change Ministry, which has been demoted to the status of a division in the federal cabinet, and its budget has been cut by 60 per cent.

Experts believe that the National Climate Change policy is comprehensive. It recommends additional water storages on main rivers to store floodwater. Also, it states, that by enhancing the capacity of large dams, damages caused by the floods may be avoided.

Experts agree that there is a dire need to restore the Climate Change Ministry and implement the National Climate Change policy.

Chairman Federal Flood Commission (FCC), Asjad Imtiaz, says almost Rs900 million to 1 billion are allocated annually for water infrastructure development. This amount is for all five provinces, tribal areas and all rivers of the country.

It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan is among the top three countries most vulnerable to climate change-related disasters and is in a cycle of extreme weather events for the last four years. Therefore, the allocation of funds for water infrastructure is quite insignificant. "Provinces are responsible for water infrastructure. They spot their vulnerable areas and we evaluate their demands technically and recommend the doable projects," says Imtiaz.

The finance department releases the funds to the provinces directly, and "FCC is not concerned with the funding," he adds.

Imtiaz says building small dams on Chenab may help the country avoid huge disasters -- besides, "an integrated National Flood Protection Plan for the next 10 years is being prepared in consultation with Nespak. The plan will be presented to the government this year for approval".

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the flood-affected areas to review the ground situation and show solidarity with people.

Pakistan Army, civil administration and NGOs are carrying out relief and rescue operations through 360 relief camps set up in different areas. Army helicopters are dropping food packs and moving the stranded people to safer places in boats and helicopters.

The heavy monsoon rains mainly cause floods in Pakistan during monsoons, from July to September. Officially, the flood season extends a little further to cater for any possible exceptions and covers the period from June 15 to October 15.

Pakistan stores only 10 per cent of the surface waterflow, whereas the worldwide ratio is 25-40 per cent. India saves 38 per cent of its surface waterflow.

Pakistan stores 65 per cent of water in three months between July and October, while the remaining 35 per cent is gathered in rest of the nine months. We can have small dams on the rivers so that we may be able to store the over-flooded amount of water that ruins our crops, submerges our villages and neighborhoods and sets our economy back.

One positive outcome of this disaster is that Mangla Dam has reached its full capacity for the first time in history which will not only help overcome the power shortage but will also have sufficient water for irrigation and other purposes.

When rain breaks loose