The monsoon rains, late this year, have finally arrived with the full force of nature, wreaking havoc in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Azad Kashmir and leaving at least 32 people dead just over the last few days. The weeks ahead promise more damage, with the catchment areas of the Chenab and Ravi distributaries expected to receive heavy rains, which may cause floods in Lahore, Faisalabad and Gujranwala divisions.
There are also fears of flash floods in the urban areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while a spell of relentless rain since Sunday has displaced thousands of people in Azad Kashmir. What should we expect in the days ahead? It was earlier in May that the National Disaster Management Authority warned that over 29 million people across Pakistan could potentially be affected by flooding this year, thus advising the provinces to “invest in disaster preparedness.”
The vast scope of the damage from the floods of 2010 and 2011 makes them truly national disasters with long-term economic and political consequences. Indeed, after the deluge left thousands dead and millions homeless, one couldn’t imagine the Pakistan government would mess up, once again, on responding to the needs of the region and its desperately vulnerable people. No it couldn’t – and yet, it seems to have done exactly that. What, one wonders, was discussed at the July 2 meeting chaired by the prime minister to review nation- wide preparedness for the 2012 monsoon season? From what we heard, contingency planning assumed the worst-case scenario and each provincial government, in coordination with the NDMA, came up with a plan to deal with its unique flood situation.
But come monsoon season, it is clear that the measures to reduce the risk and impact of floods only look good on paper and the reality is markedly different. In Punjab, more than Rs300 million was allocated for flood preparedness measures but the money has turned out to be grossly insufficient. Sindh had set up district and taluka committees for risk and disaster management but insufficient flood protection infrastructure on the Indus river system, and inadequate protective infrastructure in general, remain key challenges. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the provincial DMA has not identified or dealt with challenges adequately, which will give a tough time to the federal and provincial governments this rainy season.
Earlier this month, a research study commissioned by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a group of UK NGOs, identified major shortcomings in Pakistan’s disaster risk reduction (DRR) system, calling for greater funding, political support and co-ordination to work more effectively and emphasising more durable forms of DRR, such as mitigation and prevention. Indeed, the situation on the ground reveals that as much as scarce resources, low priority given by both the federal and provincial governments to flood mitigating measures is the major factor behind the failure to implement identified contingency plans in letter and spirit. In the days ahead, the government at all levels must keep in mind that while floods kill people, they also hit a live political nerve. Often, survivors do not see themselves exclusively as victims of fate. They also see themselves as victims of the state. In Pakistan, this would not be a misplaced feeling. If not for reasons of compassion, the rulers would be well-advised to remember that these victims will also be voters come election time.