WHILE Pakistan is no stranger to the devastating effects of floods, the recent inundation of homes, in fact whole villages, in the Indian state of Uttarakhand is a grim reminder that preparations for the monsoons should start early. The figure for the dead and missing is in the thousands — despite the meteorological department’s claim that it had given the state authorities prior information of what to expect. Pakistan’s own experience with the floods of 2010 in the four provinces and in other parts of the country, as well as the 2011 deluge that mainly ravaged large parts of Sindh, both events affecting millions of people, are still fresh in memory. The following year also saw rain damage. As the monsoons approach, parts of the country are already witnessing heavy showers. Flash floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for instance, have caused some damage to infrastructure and dwellings. While the authorities there have been warning riverine communities to move from their homes, not much has been done to remove encroachments or to instal flood warning systems. In Sindh, while reportedly considerable work has been done to strengthen embankments, the encroachments along the river and canal banks remain a concern, although the provincial authorities have said that these would be removed. The weeks ahead will tell us to what extent the authorities have learnt their lesson from the previous catastrophes.
But besides the physical impediments there are other factors such as food insecurity, disease and the loss of livelihood that are an outcome of natural calamities. How well are the authorities prepared to deal with these? For example, is there a plan to have children immunised? Childhood vaccinations are necessary in any case but for communities vulnerable to natural disasters they could prove the difference between life and death. True, the dreaded floods may never strike or at least not with the same intensity as they have in preceding years. But having a coordinated plan and strategy would prove invaluable in case the trend sustains itself.