Once the water recedes

September 4, 2022

Rehabilitation and reconstruction is the biggest challenge for Pakistan with infrastructural losses being estimated at more than $10 billion

Once the water recedes


arhat Aziz, who is in her late 70s, is homeless for more than three weeks now. She was living with her three sons, three daughters and a retired police constable husband in Mangrotha East in Taunsa, Dera Ghazi Khan in southern Punjab, one of the areas highly affected by the recent rains and floods.

The family was living in a small two-room brick house with a small courtyard. “Our house was submerged as water rose up to around 8 feet,” she tells The News on Sunday. The family has no resources to repair their house once the water recedes. Their only hope can come from government assistance and philanthropists.

Aziz’s story is not much different from that of the over three million people, most of whom hail from very poor households and have been affected by the recent floods. According to Senator Sherry Rehman, the federal minister for climate change, nearly a third of Pakistan is under water as a result of flooding caused by record monsoon rains.

Rehabilitation and reconstruction are bound to be an enormous challenge for Pakistan after large-scale flooding in significant parts of the country.

The cost of rehabilitation will only be determined once the catastrophe is over. However, experts say the exercise may require billions of dollars. This will be a major task for a country already faced with a severe economic crisis amid rising inflation and heavy debt.

The devastating floods have eroded towns and buildings and affected forests. Infrastructure including roads, dams, schools, bridges, railway tracks and electricity supply lines has been damaged.

According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) data, flash floods have affected more than 33 million people in various parts of the country. Over 1,150 people including over 350 children have lost their lives. More than 1,600 people have been injured, over 287,000 houses have been destroyed and 662,000 houses have been partially damaged. Over 735,000 livestock have perished. Around 2 million acres of crops and orchards has been affected, out of which 304,475 acres is in Balochistan, 178,186 acres in the Punjab and around 1.54 million acres in Sindh.

The humanitarian challenge has been compounded by severe impacts to infrastructure. Damage to nearly 3,500 kilometres of roads and 149 bridges has limited the people’s ability to flee to safer areas.

The federal government has estimated a loss of at least $10 billion. Major crops over a large area have been destroyed, particularly in Sindh. “This loss is likely to be around three percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country,” Finance Minister Miftah Ismail has stated.

“Quick reconstruction of tourist spots by local community members will start immediately after the water recedes. Government level initiatives may take time. With most of its resources directed towards rescue and relief, the government will find it difficult to squeeze money for immediate reconstruction,” says Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. However, he suggests that the Frontier Works Organisation, a military-run construction company, may help in constructing some temporary bridges in Swat valley.

The federal government says it has a three-point strategy – rescue and relief; rehabilitation; and reconstruction. It is urging the world to step forward to help the country at this difficult moment. Pakistan and the United Nations have initiated the 2022 Pakistan Floods Response Plan (FRP), seeking to raise $160 million in emergency aid for the country.

A report by the United Nations Office for Risk Reduction discusses the large-scale flooding in 2010 that claimed at least 2,000 lives and displaced millions, damaging infrastructure and an area of around 37,000 square kilometres. Over 20 million people were affected. The loss from the massive floods was about $10.4 billion, or 5.7 percent of Pakistan’s GDP. After the flooding, the rescue and relief activities had lasted 8 months.

The report highlights the factors that hinder transition to the recovery phase in Pakistan. The rehabilitation phase or the restoration of basic service and facilities to make communities and societies function includes providing temporary housing or shelter, mass feeding, treatment of the injured etc. The recovery phase, also termed the long-term phase, includes major reconstruction, development and capacity building through structural measures.

Talking about the lessons from the previous catastrophes – the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 flash floods – Suleri says that past record has been mixed. “In case of earthquake recovery (Balakot being the case in point), reconstruction never took off. However, bridges washed away in Swat during the 2010 floods were reconstructed by the government over the last four years.” He says in the run up to next elections, the provincial government is expected to allocate some funds for reconstruction.

Suleri says Pakistan did not implement the National Flood Protection Plan IV (approved by the Council of Common Interest in 2017). “Unregulated construction in river catchments and river beds led to major disaster,” he says adding, “There is no dearth of policies for disaster-risk reduction. However, these policies are not implemented.”

“Natural calamities can’t be entirely avoided but through right policies and practices, one can stop turning those calamities into human disaster,” he adds.

The UN study on 2010 floods indicates that the Post-Disaster Recovery (PDR) in developing countries is limited to relief and rescue operations, thus failing to transition to subsequent phases like rehabilitation, restoration and recovery, leading to a full and long-term recovery of a community. The factors that hinder these transitions include the lack of community-level involvement; the state and relevant institutions which fail to place communities at the centre of the recovery process; inadequate coping capacity, resource and skills of both the community and local administration which impedes long-term recovery; the absence of a recovery and reconstruction authority after the flood; and absence of coordination.

The writer is a staff reporter. He can be reached at vaqargillani@gmail.com. He tweets at @waqargillani

Once the water recedes