During the floods in the summer of 2015, 86 people died and more than 500,000 people were affected as rivers swelled with monsoon rains and glacial melt, and floodwaters engulfed various parts of Pakistan.
National Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Network said that disease had begun to strike in the aftermath of flood, with hundreds of cases of diarrhoea, dengue fever and skin and eye infections being reported in all affected areas.
Previous floods have been much worse: in 2010, 20 percent of the country was underwater, displacing more than 20 million people and killing around 2,000.
Scientists are increasingly drawing links between climate change and natural disasters including the 2010 floods, according to Germanwatch, a think tank that ranked Pakistan the tenth most vulnerable country to climate change in its Global Climate Risk Index 2015.
Pakistan has signed onto the Hyogo Framework, which aims to better equip countries and communities to deal with disasters, and the government in 2013 approved a National Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Policy. Under that policy, funding for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was increased from PKR 93 million (about USD 907,000) in the 2011/2012 fiscal year to PKR 169 million in 2014/2015.
The current floods show that the government is not working fast and efficiently enough. These disasters are exposing its weaknesses and the fact that they are unable to meet the challenges that climate change is likely to throw upon us.
For example, the country’s century-old water management system will continue to be overwhelmed during heavy rains until the government invests in an overhaul.
The problem is not only one of allocating funding; it also has to do with Pakistan’s inability to implement policies efficiently at different levels of government.
So far the government is tackling disasters, especially floods, with a reactive approach: when floods occur, they start their operations. There is a need to take DRR as a developmental issue and to institutionalize it and adopt proactive approach by building the capacity of institutions of and communities.
The poor response to the floods “indicates a severe crisis of management and governance”.
The NMDA admitted that there is a need for “better inter-agency coordination. If the NDMA thinks that it can reverse climate change by hanging a few banners on the roads in Islamabad and elsewhere then good luck to it.
|Ten things to do before a flood|
|There’s no way to prevent the heavy rains or glacial melt that lead to floods. And when preventing these events from causing inundations is possible, it often involves major infrastructural projects. But there is much that can be done at the local level to reduce the harm caused when floods do occur.
Here’s a selection, drawn from a recent risk assessment report carried out on the Kashmore district of Pakistan’s southwestern Sindh province.
|Continually maintain and reinforce bunds|
|Pave key road links|
|Encourage farmers to insure livestock|
|Maintain emergency stocks of fodder|
|Clean sewers before each monsoon season|
|Restrict dumping of solid waste into rivers|
|Train community leaders to deliver early warning messages|
|Identify safe sites for poor people living in flood-prone areas|
|Encourage school enrolment to increase literacy and disaster awareness|
|Step up first aid training|
|Source: Alhasan Systems|
Mounting evidence suggests that anthropogenic or manmade causes have accelerated the pace at which glaciers retreat all over the world. Pakistan’s mountainous north is covered by as many as 5000 glaciers, many of which are not retreating, but remain exposed to greenhouse gases that are bound to have an adverse effect. Pakistan’s own carbon footprint is negligible, but its coping mechanisms in the face of disaster are largely inadequate. Glacial melt has catalyzed numerous natural disasters in Pakistan, including the devastating flood of 2010 and more recently the flash floods in Chitral District this July. The frequency of extreme events driven by climate change has increased manifold over the last decade and poses grave new challenges for policy planning.