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Floods 2014: A colossal failure of state authorities

Publishing Date: September 18th 2014

By Bushra Khaliq


The flood 2014 in Pakistan is the fifth in series of floods after floods in 1973, 1988, 1992 and 2010. This time late monsoon rains hitting earlier September unleashed terrific floods in central Punjab. Swollen rivers, particularly Chenab breached floodwalls, sweeping away thousands of villages and the govt. despite warning of Met office turned a deaf ear, putting the people at the mercy of the calamity.

The untamed rivers have wreaked havoc on the lives of people. So far, over 2 million people are affected and more than 300 are killed and the livelihoods of several millions are at stake. According to NDMA 45,000 houses are destroyed and 3,000 villages were submerged. A total 10 districts of Punjab are affected, of which Jhang, Chiniot and Hafizabad were severely hit.

Crops and orchards standing over 200,000 acres of land including cotton, rice, sugarcane and other commodities have been damaged. The land under water is the prime source of agricultural produce of the country. In other words, the entire areas are Pakistan’s breadbaskets, which reels from these floods.

It is colossal failure of the state authorities to protect people from predictable disasters like recent floods. Apparently Govt. has been miserably failed to learn any lesson from 2010 super floods. The missing links in policy and implementation plans are still missing after four years of the 2010 super flood. Not a single meeting of NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) has held after 2012. Reports by flood commissions are gathering dust in the shelves and the government is giving lame excuses as to why the reports were not attended to.

The successive governments/regimes in Pakistan have been failed to invest in construction of water reservoirs and other infrastructure needed to regulate water levels through wet and dry seasons and continued relying on the decades old irrigation and canal system built in the British era. Every govt. put blame on their predecessor for this failure. However, there was no doubt that mass devastation caused by these floods was the result of govt. inefficiencies.

However, interestingly jihadists and even some so-called flood experts have found it convenient to blame an Indian conspiracy to submerge Pakistan instead of emphasizing the poor level of preparedness for flooding on this side of the border. Maulana Hafiz Saeed of Jamaatud Dawa has blamed India for current devastating floods that have submerged swaths of Pakistani countryside and claimed hundreds of lives. “India irrigates its deserts and dumps extra water on Pakistan without any warning to destroy Pakistan agriculture”. In a similar vein, Jamaat-i-Islami Ameer Sirajul Haq did not miss the opportunity to castigate India for exacerbating the flooding in the Chenab.

These religious forces fully exploit the inability/inefficiency of the local authorities struggling to cope with floods and sustain the chronic tension with India. But the real question is even if there was a timely warning from India that this was about to happen, would govt. have heeded it? Would government have the institutional capacity to take the right steps? Perhaps no. Instead of blaming India, we must accept that authorities were not prepared for floods.

Institutional capacity of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Federal Flood Commission – the two main bodies to tackle floods is a matter of grave concern. Both the institutions lag behind from their stated objectives and responsibilities. Despite the fact that NDMA has better resources at hand, did some trainings and evolved contingency plans, but it did little to implement those plans.

Like previous floods in 2010, the impact of the recent floods on the human rights is immense. Media reports show miserable conditions of people in the flood-hit areas. There are reported gaps in provision/distribution of relief items. There is no organized system of distribution of relief goods. Through TV shots it is not difficult to guess total free-for-all situation at distribution points. The poor and weaker has no chance to get the due share; you have to be stronger enough to get relief items. Thus floods have disproportionately affected the women, children and persons with disabilities, particularly those living in rural areas.

Women and especially girls, already known to have been denied access to basic rights in disasters; food, medicine and shelter, have become further vulnerable as result of current calamity. The situation may heighten the risk that women and girls be discriminated against, sexually abused and trafficked. They need special attention of relief and humanitarian assistance teams. This segment of society is particularly vulnerable and strong possibility of lacking access to relief aid, health, education and other essential services.

Although the immediate flood surge now had largely passed through Punjab, it was only the start of the emergency, which was likely to bring a range of additional hardships and further threats, particularly in rural areas. As the floodwaters begin to recede, the damage in many villages is acutely apparent among a sea of mud. According to media the situation was dismal and flood affectees particularly children were suffering from various diseases like diarrhea, eye infections and skin diseases. At some places the villagers have little access to food, limited water and no access to medicine.

But the government activities tell another story. It does not seem serious about tackling the issue on a permanent basis rather; it was taking the natural disaster as a photo-op and telling the people it was God-sent disaster. According to Metrological experts, the frequency of flash floods has increased in recent years and will continue to rise in future in the wake of the shifting monsoon zone caused by climate changes in the region. If govt. cannot control flooding, it can at least control damage to life and property by being better prepared for it. For how long people of Pakistan would continue to drown?