What is flood damage level and why doesn’t it matter?

There are also several new aspects that make a good assessment of the latest floods more important than in the past


Daud Khan October 03, 2022
Daud Khan is a retired UN staff member based in Rome. He has degrees in economics from LSE and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar

I t is of primary importance to properly document and quantify the damage caused by the 2022 floods. These estimates are necessary to guide the immediate relief effort, particularly in terms of its sectoral and geographic focus. They are also critical to guide the subsequent rehabilitation and reconstruction work; ensure synergies between the humanitarian and recovery efforts; and enhance resilience to possible future disasters.

There are also several new aspects that make a good assessment of the latest floods more important than in the past. There is growing scientific evidence that these floods are linked to global climate change — we may not yet understand all the linkages and feedback loops but the fact that there is a linkage is now widely accepted. And this means that such disasters are likely to happen more frequently in the future.

Getting recovery and rehabilitation efforts right — and documenting what works and what does not — is thus more critical than before. Also there is increasing acceptance that much climate change is the results of emission in the richer countries over the last two centuries. This is leading to a growing political clamour for financing mechanisms that will help developing countries hit by climate related disasters. This clamour will come to the fore as countries meet in Egypt in November 2022 at COP27. Pakistan needs to have a good narrative of how it has been affected by the floods.

It needs a solid estimate of damages based on internationally accepted assessment methodologies. It needs a well thought out plan of how it will move forward to reconstruct and rebuild — a plan which is costed and prioritised. It needs to ensure that resilience to shocks, particularly climate shocks, is incorporated in the recovery and reconstruction effort, as well as into its overall development planning. And above all it needs a clear view of how rehabilitation and reconstruction work will be implementation, who will be responsible, and who will be accountable.

The government has done well to ask a group in international partners to support it in conducting a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA). This group includes the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the UN, and the World Bank. These agencies will work closely with the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives; the provincial Planning and Development Departments; the National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities; and relevant government ministries and departments, as well as civil society and private sector. However, instead of letting the experts get on with their work, there appears to be a competition among our leaders to come up with ever more spectacular figures.

The assessment of damage has risen from $11 billion (similar to that in 2010) to $18 billion to $30 billion to the latest figure of $40 million. Maybe there is an expectation that citing higher figures may lead to a greater inflow of assistance. But this is simply naïve. Developed and developing countries from the Americas, to Europe, to Africa, to Asia and to Australia are suffering droughts, floods and fires. This along with high energy prices, the war in Ukraine and a looming global recession have dramatically reduced the appetite among donor countries for increased aid flows.

And if leaders wish to make statements and give press releases, they should speak to what has been, and continues to be, the biggest constraints to development in Pakistan. These are above all the lack of strong political and technical leadership; the unwillingness to address issues such as illegal land use; a paralysis on any serious policy reforms; and the level of corruption in public works. Political and other opinion makers must also talk openly why some of the post disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts were successful as in the case of the 2005 earthquake, or less successful as in the case of the 2010 flood.

They should talk about why other neighbouring countries have developed better coping mechanisms that minimise death and damage due to floods and other natural disasters, and what prevents Pakistan from doing the same. And they should talk about why so few of the lessons — positive or negative — from past disasters have not been taken on board. Climate change poses large threats. And yes, we should ask the international community for help. But we must first put our own house in order. Only by doing so can we build trust with those who are affected, as well as by those who provide funds — be they domestic taxpayers, Pakistani and overseas philanthropists, or international donors.

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