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Five lessons from the floods 2014
By: Dr. Abid Qaiyum suleri

The cost of not prioritising to learn a lesson is huge and the
neglect at times is criminal. Torrential rains are one such example
which has become a regular feature of late monsoon for the last few
years. Despite facing repeated floods due to mismanaged rain water, we
still have not learnt any lesson and this year angry Chenab River caused
havoc in Punjab.

It is said that one cannot avoid natural calamities but a right set
of policies and practices can stop those natural calamities from turning
into human disaster. The losses of lives, livelihoods, and
infrastructure due to the floods after unusual rains in September
reflect lacunas in disaster preparedness, disaster prevention, and
disaster mitigation policies and practices of the two nuclear
neighbouring states.

In its fifth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) has strengthened its assessment that extreme
rainfall will be a feature of climate change as weather patterns shift
across south Asia. This assessment proved true when the vigorous South
West Monsoon brought torrential rains over Jammu and Kashmir earlier in
September.

A little recap first. On September 2nd, Jammu and Kashmir was hit by
more than 200mm of rain in less than 24 hours — four times the average
monthly rainfall. Over the next few days, rains continued in both sides
of Kashmir. On 5 September, the Jhelum River in Srinagar and Tawi River
in Jammu where flowing way above the danger mark (River Jhelum at 12
feet (3.7 m) above the danger mark in Anantnag district). This water led
to the worst flood in that area in last 50 years — forcing Indian PM to
declare it a national disaster.

The river dykes were breached to save major cities by Indian
authorities. The water flew from Jammu to Pakistan and caused floods in
the downstream seasonal nullahs of Pakistan (Sailkot) and in River
Chenab for which Tawi serves a major left bank tributary. The nullahs in
Pakistan with their catchment areas in Jammu turned into uncontrollable
rivers, and the river Chenab turned furious. This coupled with heavy
rains in Pakistan swept away districts after districts in Punjab, and
also affected parts of Sindh.

Also read: Taming the floods

Lesson number 1: Natural calamities know no boundaries and so
are their consequences in the absence of a coordinated disaster
management strategy. India and Pakistan, despite their political
differences would have to collaborate on issues of seasonal extremes —
manifestation of climate change. We already have a flood control
cooperation model (Sapta Kosi High Multipurpose Project) between India
and Nepal on Kosi River. Through this project the Kosi, once known as
the sorrow of Bihar is envisaged to be managed through Sapta Kosi High
Multipurpose Project for development of hydropower, irrigation, flood
control and management, and navigation in both the countries.

Like India, the authorities in Pakistan also breached the river dykes
in an attempt to save crucial irrigation barrages, cities like Jhang
and Multan, (and at places) agricultural lands of powerful and
influential landlords, leaving victims ask the question if they were
children of a lesser god. In the absence of “effective” local government
system, the decision of where to breach the dyke would always be non
consultative and top-down. In India, change of land use plan is one of
the toughest things. In Pakistan, in our rural areas such plans only
exist on paper.

Lesson number 2: Such plans are to be prepared and vetted by
local government authorities, but in the absence of local governments,
the provincial government should do the flood zoning and discourage any
construction in extremely flood prone areas.

 In the absence of local governmets in Punjab and Sindh, there is no
room for the local people’s say in emergency aid delivery and
rehabilitation efforts.

This year the flood was different from floods of 2010, where river
Indus was involved and water in north western highlands had led to flash
floods. This was the case of water overflowing from seasonal nullahs
and River Chenab. In the absence of a strict land use plan, dry river
bed get encroached (through the connivance of authorities) by land
grabbers who intrude human settlements on flood prone areas. Some of the
dry river beds are inhabited by landless and nomad communities.
Whenever the rivers overflow, such settlements are the first one to get
destroyed.

Lesson number 3: Dry river bed in dry season offers false
sense of security. People need to be sensitised about potential loss to
their lives, infrastructure and investment due to floods and must be
discouraged from populating the river beds. This would also require
providing alternative settlement areas to landless settlers.

There are 22 agencies to cope with disasters, e.g., the National
Disaster Management Authority NDMA with provincial branches (PDMAs) and
district branches (DDMAs); Emergency Relief Cell, ERRA; Civil Defence,
Rescue 1122, etc. On top of it, we have Federal Flood Commission,
irrigation departments, meteorology departments, and climate change
division.

However, one finds lack of coordination and planning among most of
these agencies. The best organised and well-resourced player in
Pakistanis the army, and it is no surprise that they do play a crucial
role in delivering emergency aid, e.g , through helicopters, army boats,
etc.

Lesson number 4: There is a sheer vacuum due to under equipped
civilian institutions. In the absence of any other alternative, this
vacuum has to be filled in by armed forces. We need to set our
allocation and spending priorities right to equip and strengthen civil
institutions so that Army may focus on war against extremists.

The floods have posed a whole series of serious challenges to the
country’s citizens, (and already challenged by dharnas) PMLN Government,
and local administration. The sheer size of the affected area, the
enormous number of victims and the short time within which releif was
required  – all these create almost  insurmountable  challenges.

Although the flood is over, but we can see hundreds of villages in
Gujranwala, Sargodha, DG Khan and Multan divisions which are still
affected by water. They do require and (would keep on requiring over
next few months) food, clean drinking water, medicines (the risk of
outbreak of skin diseases, cholera and diarrhoea); feed and veterinary
care for remaining livestock, shelter, etc. In the absence of local
governmets in Punjab and Sindh the administrators from the state
bureaucracy are running the local administration and there is no room
for local people’s say in emergency aid delivery and rehabilitation
efforts.

Lesson number 5: Local Self help groups must be strengthened and empowered so that they face less dependency in the event of floods.

One aspect that seems to be ignored is how this flood has affected
the food and livelihood security situation. We are talking of flood in a
context where almost one third population  was already not able “to
secure nutritious food, for all times for everyone” (food insecure in
Punjab). Thousands of acres of cultivated land in Punjab (the bread
basket of Pakistan) is inundated. After the devastating floods all three
components of food security have turned even worse.

The loss of livelihood  opportunities directly affects the
socio-economic access to food. Loss to physical infrastructure,  stored
food commodities,  and livestock affect the physical availability of
food. Prevalence  of diseases during floods negatively affects food
absorption in human body. It should not be an exaggeration to say that
after the floods more than 50 per cent of population in the above
mentioned districts would  be on the verge of being insecure.

It all boils down to governance, coordinating delivery of emergency
aid; having plans ready beforehand; bringing all the involved
stakeholders on board; ensuring the proper operation and maintenance of
irrigation  structures, creating but also operating and maintaining
organisations for disaster preparedness — all these are facets of
governance.

Governance means how decisions are made within a certain society or
nation; who is involved in these decision-making processes and who has
which  powers  to decide; on which evidence is planning based and which
planning are taken as basis for decision-making; how are conflicting
views dealt with ? It would not be wrong to say that recent floods have
yet again challenged the whole governance process (as defined above) as
it exists in the country.

The real challenge: The real challenge is to develop feasible
alternatives to ensure an effective governance system which helps in
stopping natural calamities from turning into a human disaster.

Source : http://tns.thenews.com.pk/five-lessons-from-floods-2014/#.VDYunhZFiZR

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.