This was the third year in a row that we have witnessed devastating inundations across different parts of the country. This year, the floods have killed over 400 people and left several thousand people injured. Hundreds of thousands of people across thousands of villages have been displaced from their homes. Overall, nearly five million people are estimated to have been impacted by this latest flood over the past six weeks due to crop, livestock and infrastructure damage.
Last year, flooding impacted over nine million people. The year before, floods left a fifth of the country submerged, affecting more than 20 million people.
The devastation caused by two previous years of flooding should have demonstrated the apparent need for increasing our capacity to contend with natural disasters. Yet, provincial governments remained hesitant to allocate sufficient funds for disaster relief during the current year’s budget.
Given this lacklustre attitude, it is not surprising to note complaints pouring in from flood-hit areas — especially from more remote districts such as Jaffarabad and Naseerabad — due to insufficient resources available to provide immediate relief to the affected.
Earlier flood damage to homes, crops, livestock, health centres, schools and roads had already pushed multitudes of households in already poor and neglected districts to the point of despair. Now, access to basic facilities will be further diminished due to yet another year of flooding.
The performances of both, the government and donor agencies, in terms of disaster management, leave much to be desired. After the devastating 2005 earthquake, UN agencies helped create the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and have continued working closely with the NDMA ever since. Nonetheless, despite seven years of its existence, even a moderately effective disaster risk management system has not yet been put in place at the provincial and district levels. Accountability systems to ensure that aid for disasters actually reaches the most deserving victims also merits more attention.
Additionally, there is an urgent need to prevent the gross acts of departmental negligence, which have compounded the damage, instead of mitigating or controlling it. For instance, irrigation department officials have been found complicit in canal breaches aimed at protecting large landowners at the cost of inundating the land of poor villagers. The delayed response in regulating flow of the Dera Ghazi Khan Canal during this year’s flooding also unleashed massive damage on the district’s infrastructure.
An increasing number of analysts are now pointing out how years of unthinking development and neglect of natural drainage systems of Pakistan’s major rivers are responsible for these increasingly severe instances of flooding, as well as for the increasing problems of waterlogging and salinity.
Even donor-funded projects, such as the Taunsa barrage rehabilitation have been criticised for causing massive flooding in Muzaffargarh. If such projects are, in fact, determined to have exacerbated the flooding, then international agencies, which funded these projects must also accept their share of responsibility for inadequate environmental impact assessments. The agencies must also share the burden of rectifying flaws and reversing the damage caused by the flaws. As things stand, however, the real price of institutional neglect and incapacity is being paid by poor people with the least responsibility for initiating unthinking development plans or for exacerbating climate changes behind the natural disasters, which are wreaking havoc on their already distressed lives.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2012.