Mahnoor (USA) - Recent floods in Pakistan have once again raised many questions. On one hand the country is at the verge of water scarcity and on the other millions of cusecs water is thrown in the ocean without making any productive use of it. The mismanagement ranges from governments’ successive failure to devise flood handling strategy (both at the strategic level and operational capabilities) to develop a forum for the international development partners to chip in their resources for rescue, relief and rehabilitation.

Pakistan is one of the most affected countries facing climate change. Despite the fact that a full fledge Ministry of Climate Change at the federal level and Environment Protection Departments at the provincial level, not much is seen happening in the arena of environment. After every three to four years, either glaciers play havoc or bursting of heavy monsoon system in the catchment areas of rivers in Kashmir, renders massive devastation. At the moment, government is facing two challenges i.e., dealing with the recent floods and secondly, planning to avert such situation in the future.

The flood management starts with the warning by the Meteorological Department. Sooner the warning is issued, more time for evacuation for the vulnerable population. Unfortunately, the Met office couldn’t forecast early the huge monsoon system looming over the catchment areas of rivers. The downstream villages which are situated within the water beds of rivers are in thousands. These villages are neither approved by the town planning mechanism nor have any contingency plans in place. The district administration has to rely upon the 19th century methods of warning through announcements in mosques and through words of mouth. Evacuation is not a simple phenomenon, as villagers would never like to leave their livestock and their homes. This time government tried to force the villagers through police to evacuate but that too didn’t work. Over 300 deaths reported and more than 500 injured. The loss of property and livestock is enormous. The biggest loser in the flood is the government, which loses its infrastructure i.e., road network, schools, health centers, dykes, railway tracks, other office buildings etc. During the evacuation, government has to mobilise helicopters, boats, rescuers and other equipment. Armed forces supported the rescue operation and it has been reported by the Disaster Management Authority that over eight hundred thousand people rescued by the joint efforts of armed forces and civilian organisations.

The next challenge after evacuation is provision of relief to the evacuated population. They are provided with tents, food, medical aid, fodder for their livestock etc. Tent villages are set up for the displaced population and government tries its best to provide maximum relief to the residents of tent villages. Here in this phase, unfortunately we have not seen international development partners playing their mandated role. The presence of many donor organisations in Pakistan could have added strength to the ongoing relief operation but neither government nor management of these organisations could mobilise them. Resultantly, many loop holes in the provision of relief to the displaced people witnessed and pointed out by the media.

Now the next phase is rehabilitation of this displaced population. The government must hold a donor conference and make an international appeal for funds and goods as the scale of devastation is huge. Concerted efforts are required and it is not just the responsibility of the government rather it is the national and international responsibility to avert human disaster. Third world country like Pakistan which has limited resources cannot divert its already scared resources from development to restoration and rehabilitation of millions of flood effectees.

Coming back to the analysis and lesson learnt from the recent floods. Every time such natural calamity struck, government is found ill prepared. It starts from capacity building of Meteorological Office to effective warning system. The most important element in the entire devastation is the huge population which has been allowed to live in the river beds with the tacit approval of the government agencies. It is worth mentioning that these settlements have been provided electricity, telephone lines, and other requisite infrastructure. Government is required to revisit its policy and convert this flood into opportunity. It is the high time that government may constitute a high powered technical commission to study the issue of these settlements and make recommendations to relocate these villages. Another issue which has been witnessed during the flood is the lack of training of district administration to handle the situation. Numbers of helplines and control rooms are established for the people in distress but it has been reported that none of these were functioning properly. Understandably, the scale of challenge was huge but regular trainings of disaster management must be imparted to vulnerable districts round the year. The government is also required to make investment in embankments, dykes and head works. This would mitigate the chances of devastation of flood. Storage of flood water is critical. Government may look into this seriously and form a Flood Management Commission comprising of international and national experts and devise a comprehensive strategy to turn this curse into blessing. Last but not the least, post flood affairs which include but not limited to vaccination, burial of dead animals, testing the drinking water sources and spray of insecticides are very important to control any epidemic.