‘Floods cannot be confronted, only better received’

Updated September 10, 2014

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Soldiers use an inflatable boat to rescue flood-affected residents from a village at Jalalpur Bhattian in the Hafizabad district in Punjab province. — Photo by AFP/File
Soldiers use an inflatable boat to rescue flood-affected residents from a village at Jalalpur Bhattian in the Hafizabad district in Punjab province. — Photo by AFP/File

Zafar Altaf

Former chairman, Pakistan Agriculture Research Council

You cannot simply confront a flood, you must receive them. Floods are a blessing; but unfortunately, our country’s rulers only wake up to a problem after the worst has happened. There was absolutely no homework or planning.

Deforestation on a massive scale has been continuing unchecked in the country for decades and this is one of the major reasons for such calamitous floods. AJK has been robbed of its green cover and this made it more susceptible to flooding.

In addition, the drainage system needs to be overhauled. Floodwaters that have entered the plains of Punjab will remain there for three to four months now, meaning that farmers can’t sow rice or wheat. When this water reaches Sindh, it will destroy the crops there as well.

You can’t stop floods with dams, but you can definitely store that water, which will otherwise be wasted.

Hazrat Mir

Director General, Met Office

“Last month, we warned authorities of heavy rains during the first week of September and said that it would be “an extreme event”. Had they taken adequate measures in time, the devastation could have been prevented to some extent.

This year’s floods were caused by heavy rains in Punjab and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. India’s release of extra water in the Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej rivers also compounded the problem… it is high time the government constructs more dams.

Both this and the 2010-11 floods were riverine floods. Nearly 800,000 cusecs are expected to hit Sindh on September 13.

If we could harness these waters, the flooding would become a boon not a bane.

The next summer, if we face water shortage, we will rue the fact that we did not utilise this surplus water. Most importantly, construction on riverbanks needs to be stopped.

Arshad Abbasi

Adviser, Sustainable Development Policy Institute

While these rains were, no doubt, severely torrential, safety measures must evolve to reflect the rising nature of the challenges we face. Unfortunately, we have not been able to convert this crisis into an opportunity.

Once, groundwater levels in the country used to be around 100 feet below the surface. Now, they have gone down to around 500 feet. Worldwide, countries are working to make land more porous so rainwater absorption can be increased. But Pakistan has not done anything like that.

The impression that this was rainfall on an unprecedented scale and could not have been foreseen is also incorrect. Governments must plan for the future and there has been ample warning about changing climatic patterns. Rivers, canals and streams should be regularly de-silted, but in Pakistan, such areas are densely populated, which causes problems when the river rises.

It seems we have learnt nothing from the floods of 2010.

Published in Dawn, September 10th , 2014