Floods in Pakistan; Response, Relief and Recovery

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Zainab Naeem

This year, we have entered the eighth cycle and the monsoon is still not over

Climate change is no longer a threat. Rather, it has now become a reality, which cannot be avoided. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 6th Assessment Report had warned that the South Asian region will be hit by extreme temperatures, followed by draughts and intense monsoon season, which may cause floods. This warning has evidently materialized for Pakistan, which is currently experiencing disastrous floods, preceded by the intense and prolonged heatwaves earlier this year. Usually, in Pakistan, the monsoon season used to end after three to four cycles, but this year, we have entered the eighth cycle and the monsoon is still not over. As per the official data, almost 33 million people have been directly affected by the recent floods and the death toll is expected to cross the mark of 1000. The damage is colossal in comparison to the 2010 floods, which affected 20 million people in Pakistan. Since the early onset of the monsoon in mid-June, floods have affected or caused damage to 3000km of the road network, 495,000 homes and 130 bridges have been swept away in flood water as per the NDMA report. Roughly it has been estimated that every 1 in 7 Pakistani is sleeping out in open due to the current flood crisis in the country.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was hit by GLOFs and flash floods at the start of the season. Currently, as per the recent reports, raging floods have caused devastation in Swat, Charsadda, Kohistan and adjoining areas. In Swat, the multi-storey hotel collapsed and was submerged in the floodwater. Furthermore, the Karakoram Highway in Kohistan has been swept away by flash floods and land sliding, blocking the land route, which connects KPK with Gilgit Baltistan. Moreover, the provincial government has imposed an emergency in the affected areas, especially near the Swat River, which now has the largest volume of water in recorded history – far higher than during the 2010/11 floods. The city of Nowshera and Charsadda are also badly affected by the floods while many tourists are stuck in Kumrat as the river gets flooded. Due to the damage to road infrastructure, people in Ghizer and other districts in Gilgit Baltistan, which are flooded are still waiting for rescue and relief operations.
In Sindh, Karachi experienced the unprecedented torrential and heavy downpour, which continued for days and caused massive urban flooding and drenched the entire city. The heavy rains also affected other cities in the province and now 23 districts have been declared as calamity-hit by the government. According to the Met Department, the province received 784 per cent more rainfall than average and more rains have been predicted. Schools have been closed and business as usual is no longer possible in many parts of the province. The people are forced to take shelter in school buildings and are waiting for rescue operations. As per the official data, standing crops of over 1.4 million acres in the province have been destroyed and more than 300 people have become homeless. Larkana, Nosheroferoze, and Thatta are drenched under floodwater and road networks, which connect Sindh with Balochistan and Punjab are also submerged in floodwater.
The province of Balochistan has been worst struck by the floods. Quetta, Bolan, Lasbela, Jhal Magsi, Qila Saifullah and many other parts are completely submerged in floodwater as the province experienced 500 per cent more rainfall than the average over the last 30 years. Road transport, railways and mobile phone networks and telecommunication networks got disrupted. As per the official report, more than 36,469 households have been affected, of which 60 per cent are in Balochistan. Many small dams have been broken and connecting bridges and other infrastructure has been damaged completely in the largest province of Pakistan.
In South Punjab, almost 200,000 acres of cropland, which lies in Rajanpur and Dera Ghazi Khan, have been completely inundated by the floodwater due to a hill torrent from the Suleiman Mountain range. As per the latest warning by the NDMA, the Indus River will experience a high-level flood in the coming days that will affect South Punjab and upper Sindh. Flood water has reportedly entered houses and wreaked havoc in areas of Taunsa and Muzaffargarh where roads have completely submerged under water.
For rescue operations and relief assistance, civil governments assisted by the army are trying to reach out to the flood victims via helicopters and boats. Specifically, after the outrage on social media, the rescue and relief operations have been expedited. People shared live videos and used platforms like Twitter spaces to appeal for help. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has launched cash schemes and funds for the flood affectees and has also appealed to the nation and international partners for the humanitarian assistance of flood victims. Apart from the United Nations, which has announced three million dollars as aid for flood victims, the US, European Union, China, and some other countries have also announced financial assistance in this hour of need. Under the BISP social protection program, the federal and Sindh government has also launched direct cash transfer and ration program for flood victims. The NDMA and PDMAs are constantly assisting the local administration with evacuation plans in areas, which may further get affected. Also, many local NGOs and private organizations have launched a nationwide appeal for donations for the affected people.
This year, the country has received an unprecedented amount of rainfall, however, that is not the only reason for massive floods. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, people have encroached on the floodplains, and hotels and buildings have been constructed by encroaching the river boundaries. Similarly, in Balochistan, houses have been constructed along the flood plains or Rod Kohi areas, which is a system of irrigating fields using water from hill torrents. The unplanned construction has caused massive devastation to the infrastructure in these two provinces. On the other hand, India released 171,797 Cusecs water into the Ravi River via the Ujh barrage, which has further aggravated the flood situation in low-lying rural and agricultural areas of Punjab.
For now, rescue and relief operations are the top priority of the government. However, we need to prepare and work for the post-flood recovery programs. Since the cropland has been affected, we should brace ourselves for the imminent food crisis in the next few months. The country, which was already cash-strapped and suffering from high energy prices, will now be affected by the food price inflation in the coming months. Wheat, rice, pulses, and tomato production have been damaged . Food insecurity was already a problem in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine War, which will now get exacerbated due to the current flood situation. The government will have to take serious measures to control hoarding and provide for the food and necessities in the areas hit by floods.
The country is in crisis. Instead of political point scoring, governments and the nation need to unite and help the flood victims wholeheartedly. There is a need to develop proactive and precautionary policy actions to avoid such disasters in future. Moreover, the government representatives need to align their political agenda with climate change adaptation because this is the greatest threat to Pakistan, both socially and economically.