In 2010, Pakistan had a catastrophic flood in which a fifth of the country was underwater. This year’s flood (mid-June to August end) was much worse when a third of the country was inundated by heavy rainfall from June.
António Guterres, the UN secretary general, called this year’s flooding event an unprecedented natural disaster.
Rizwan Akbar Ali, Ph. D candidate for Civil and Environment Engineering at the University of Auckland, and Dr Sandeeka Mannakkara, a lecturer in Climate Engineering at the same University and department, have co-authored an article, “Pakistan’s worst disaster and future of disaster management“, discussing the country’s worst floods in 2022.
Their previous research on Pakistan’s floods in 2010, which we have featured here in CAP, highlighted where the country could work for a better recovery and reconstruction.
The authors are also working on a research paper on a similar line to draw lessons learned from their previous research and propose a path to recovery after the 2022 floods.
As the authors had requested, we are re-publishing their article here.
Pakistan’s worst disaster and future of disaster management
Rizwan Akbar Ali, Dr. Sandeeka Mannakkara
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Auckland
The recent floods in Pakistan affected 33 million people and inundated one-third of the country. Resulting in 1731 death and more than 2.2 million houses fully and partially damaged, including 13,115 kilometres of roads and 439 bridges destroyed.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has officially identified 116 districts affected by monsoon floods across Pakistan.
In terms of people and areas affected by the floods, it is becoming Pakistan’s largest-ever disaster and one of the world’s largest calamities in recent years. The previous largest floods were twelve years ago, in 2010, affecting 20 million people with $10 Billion in economic losses.
The super floods devastated all four provinces, but the Sothern province of Sindh and Balochistan were affected the most.
Around 43% of flood-related deaths were in Sindh province. The Sindh province only faced a combined loss of USD 1.7 billion in crops and livestock. The dollar amount for economic losses in agriculture is much beyond the estimated direct losses to crop production and livestock. According to the Chief Minister of Sindh, around seven million acres of land were inundated by the flood. More than 15 million people were affected with 6 Billion rupees in loss and damages. Over 10 districts in Sindh are still inundated with flood water for weeks.
Climate Change and Pakistan
Pakistan is among the top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change. The INFORM Risk Index continuously ranks countries high in risk and vulnerability scores. The impacts of climate change are not new to Pakistan. However, this year it unleashed all its havoc on people in a very short period.
Before the historic floods, Pakistan faced multiple heatwaves in the months of April and June. This year on May 12th, 13th, and 14th, temperatures in Jacobabad reached 50°C, while other parts of the country reached almost 50°C as well. Torrential rains followed the extreme temperature in almost the same districts of the Southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan.
According to an international team of leading climate scientists as part of the World Weather Attribution group, despite considerable uncertainties in the results, extreme rainfall in the region has increased by 50-75%, and some climate models suggest this increase could be entirely due to human-caused climate change. The two southern provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, each experienced their wettest August ever recorded, receiving 7 and 8 times their usual monthly totals.
On his visit to Pakistan, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “I have seen many humanitarian disasters in the world, but I have never seen climate carnage on this scale.” The Pakistan Meteorological Department officials blamed climate change for the unusual monsoon activity and flooding for various reasons. Pakistan’s minister for climate change, Sherry Rehman, also said: “global emission targets and reparations must be reconsidered, given the accelerated and relentless nature of climate catastrophes hitting countries such as Pakistan.”
How much climate change has contributed to floods in Pakistan is yet to determine, and future studies will explore this further. However, one thing is certain the effects of climate change are here to stay, the intensity, frequency, and impact are already increasing. The interval between the disasters is reduced, not giving enough time to recover. The next disaster is already knocking on the doors before the current move into the long-term recovery phase. The 30 per cent of flood affectees in the 2011 floods were also affected in the 2010 super floods. The vulnerability is simply rebuilt.
Post-Disaster Recovery strategy?
What should Pakistan’s strategy be for post-disaster recovery in such volatile times? How can flood-affected communities build resilience and capacity in communities for future disasters? The answer lies in the lesson learned from the 2010 floods.
Yet again, the rescue and relief phase was chaotic, marred by familiar communication and coordination issues among various government agencies and local humanitarian NGOs. Also, overall poor levels of preparedness, communication, and coordination, as well as a lack of information for the search and rescue teams on the geography and demography of the inundated areas, were witnessed. No data and information management capacity has been developed at the district level since the 2010 super floods.
Although the federal government established a new National Flood Response and Coordination Centre (NFRCC) on the eve of the floods. It did not fully mitigate the communication and coordination issues at the ground level, where provinces take the lead in rescue and relief activities. However, communication, coordination, and data management mechanisms at the district level can play a crucial role in forthcoming post-disaster recovery phases.
Community and Institutional Capacity Building
These floods again proved that disaster management infrastructure is inadequate, incapable, and lacks presence at the grassroots and community levels. The capacity of local communities and state institutions is largely exposed during these floods. It is because Pakistan’s disaster management apparatus is missing at the district level and is limited to only the national and provincial levels. Even at the provincial level, it lacks resources, technical knowledge, and presence at the lowest tier of the village level.
Additionally, the situation is further aggravated by the absence of functional local governments. No local government system is working in any province. Institutional vulnerabilities can be reduced by giving influential roles, resources, and technical knowledge to the local governments and communities, which can lead to recovery. Grassroots-level community organizations are vital in timely evacuation from flooded areas and provide immediate humanitarian assistance.
Land use Reforms
A proactive approach to enhancing resilience can start with land use zoning and climate-resilient infrastructure. The illegal encroachments in river flood plains and other natural waterways caused havoc in communities and played a large part in flood damage. All encroachments must be cleared, and renewed land use reforms are required with full political support.
Continuous improvement in governance and institutions, access to finance, and technical knowledge at levels will be key in post-disaster recovery. However, it must involve affected communities, where the role of elected local governments takes the central stage. The top-down approach through bureaucracy is often tried and failed in the past.
Climate change is here to stay, and Pakistan will experience more such disasters in the future. The recovery from here will be a test case for Pakistan for future disasters. This is a window of opportunity for course correction in many areas. If properly used, Pakistan can recover, build resilience and capacity in communities and institutions, and improve its governance and development models.