Floods in Pakistan — institutional failures

Published: August 17, 2010
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The writer is an adviser on water and energy at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad
arshad.abbasi@tribune.com.pk

The writer is an adviser on water and energy at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad arshad.abbasi@tribune.com.pk

The floods have killed more than 1,600 people (and the numbers are rising). More than 16 million people have become homeless. While nature has been unkind, it is important to see how the responsible organisation of Pakistan for the prevention of floods has performed, so that improvements can be put in place to avoid similar disasters in future.

Flooding has remained a major problem in the country, mainly due to swelling of the Indus River and its tributaries during the monsoon season. In the 19th century, during the colonial era the systematic proliferation of flood control embankments began using proper engineering design standard. These flood structures are still playing a major role in protecting our major cities for the past 150 years. After independence, up to the end of 1976, the planning and execution of flood protection works was the responsibility of provinces. Nevertheless, after the catastrophic flood of 1976, the then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto established the Federal Flood Commission (FFC) and placed it under the control of the ministry of water and power. The mandate assigned to the FFC is to prepare national flood protection plans, and flood forecasting and research to harness floodwater.

Since its establishment, the FFC has spent Rs35.8 billion and $400 million on flood protection projects. The flood of 2010 has exposed the FFC’s performance and all its projects. Where has all this money gone? Most of the projects that were constructed could not withstand even medium level of floods and many exist only on paper. Had they been constructed properly the catastrophe before us could have been averted. The most devastating impact of the floods was on the Nowshera and Charsadda districts in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where as recently as 2007-8 a large amount of money was ‘spent’ on flood protection work.

While the FFC remained busy in making fanciful projects, little attention was paid to floodplain zoning, the most vital component modern flood management policy. Non-demarcation of maximum probable flood route of Indus river and its tributaries is another cause. International donor agencies had prepared floodplain zones for the Jhelum and the Chenab rivers in the late nineties with the help of satellite imagery and the historic flood record but the FFC failed to implement these plans.

In India, however, the Flood Commission (known as the Rashtriya Barh Ayog) has been far more successful. The Flood Plain Zoning Bill 2000 is its hallmark achievement. After its implementation by all of India’s states a significant reduction of human and financial loss has been observed in times of high flood.

In Pakistan, however, the FFC’s failure has been bordering on the criminal. For instance, in Swat, the first flash was triggered due to the non-zoning of the Swat River and because of uncontrolled construction including hotels and even shopping centres within the course of the river flow. Similarly in Sindh, allotment of land and other settlement in the kachcha areas was something that was allowed. On top of this, the Pakistan Met Office issued a severe flash flood warning on June 21 but officials of the FFC moved only after the devastating flood caused by the Swat River.

The lesson to learn should be to have in place a system of flood control and management and this should be done by integrating the management of water resources. Solutions include developing much-needed water reservoirs along with reforestation in river catchment areas.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • rehan
    Aug 17, 2010 - 2:01AM

    system,system,system….They will ONLY work(no matter how rusted they have become)when HEADS roll.But they don’t in this country.So the best systm is to purchase a personal life raft.”Allah ka system hai na..”Recommend

  • parvez
    Aug 17, 2010 - 11:07AM

    The FFC works under the Ministry of Water and Power and who is the minister for W&P – you guessed it. So now you have your answer.Recommend

  • M. Ahmed
    Aug 17, 2010 - 3:16PM

    IT IS A NATIONAL FAILURE !Recommend

  • Aug 18, 2010 - 3:53AM

    History of Sindhu RIVER and SINDHU Sanskruti is ancient. And it goes back to vedic times. People living near those rivers are aware of those all History, facts and believes.

    SINDHU is pronounced as INDUS but actually is SAPTA SINDHU RIVER. And SAPTA SINDHU Avrohan (descend from Himalaya) is not just any of Mythology but perfect science fact.

    What is SAPTA SINDHU RIVER? As we count those rivers as SINDHU (INDUS) originates from west KAILASH region. And drain to Kashmir valley to PANJAB it meets with other five rivers of Panjab nnmed as RAVI, CHINAB, JELUM SATLAJ and BIYAS.

    But that’s the 1+5 =6 ONLY then why SEVAN RIVERS of SAPTA SINDHU? The seventh was SARASVATI which now dried river bed as a remnant as GAGGAR HAKARA river of Rajasthan. As land area of the river bed has been uplifted and diverted the water flows to other channels. So it was SAPTA SINDHU (seven rivers).

    Peoples staying on the river banks are aware of all the facts and reality and also with mythology. It has been said that the SAPTA SINDHU is a pious river and it has descended to clear all dirt and SINs to make the land pious and fertile and free of SINs and sinners.

    Scientific fact is that as river NILE , GANGA- YAMUNA and Brahmputra, SAPTA SINDHU – Indus is also givers a fertile lands, washes up all dirt and Sins to make land pious and fertile.

    Nature and weather all are scientific and are natural phenomenon of god to make the all river to fulfil all that are supposed to do with cleaning the dirt’s and sins from there and make them pious and fertile for those pious people. Harrapa and Monhejo Daro was destroyed in past floodings, God is great and we are bow to him and to his supreme nature.

    Nature
    nature @ science net .org
    KAILSAH Man sarovar 0092 1122334455Recommend

  • Waleed Asmat
    Oct 19, 2010 - 12:34PM

    i wanna say one thing to Mr writer . whatever his name is. you can help two but u cant help the 1/8 of the pupolation. what is system? can u gimee the answer? we are the system and if we cant change then the system also cant.Recommend

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