ISLAMABAD: A Dutch Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) team met with the Ministry of Planning and other stakeholders for an introductory briefing to consider ways of improving water management in Pakistan.

The aim of this scoping exercise is to apply expertise from the Netherlands’ public and private water sectors to the Pakistani context in order to find new, smart solutions against floods and droughts.

Naseer A. Gillani, Chief Water Resources; Secretary Planning Commission Hassan Nawaz Tarar, other government officials and development agencies also participated in this briefing.

Pakistan is exposed to multiple forms of devastating natural disasters ranging from floods and droughts to earthquakes and wind storms.

During the last decade and a half, Pakistan has been through three destructive floods and two drought cycles which have resulted in loss of life, infrastructure and resources.

One of the key factors responsible for failure of concerned institutions to offer a prompt and effective response to natural disasters is limited experience and capacity. As a result, the current government has requested the Kingdom of the Netherlands to provide technical assistance in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

The DRR team comprises Jos Sonneville, Ele Jan Saaf and Frank van Steenbergen. The scoping mission intends to analyse the frequent occurrence of devastating floods, provide recommendations on reducing these risks, and scope opportunities for cooperation with the Dutch water sector – both public and private.

In this context, the team will share the experience of the Netherlands in its own delta-management.

Rick Slettenhaar, Head of Economic Affairs at the Netherlands Embassy in Islamabad, said: “As a country largely below sea level, the Netherlands is the global leader on water management.

“Dutch water management firms possess both the analytical insight and expert technologies to address Pakistan’s water problems in very concrete ways. I am excited at the potential for new solutions and new partnerships.”

Jos Sonneville explained the multi-layered approach the Netherlands takes towards flood risk management measures, stating that it can be separated into three layers including alerts, evacuation, response and recovery, spatial planning issues, reducing the impact of flooding through spatial planning measures, not building in flood prone unprotected areas, or through building codes and flood defences.

A comprehensive solution includes all these tiers as well as availability of data.

Ele Jan Saaf, who has spent many years working and living in Pakistan, is hopeful that a mission at this level will enable the Pakistani government and the provinces to bundle their energy to develop concrete measures to reduce flood risks in the future.

Sardar Tariq, author of the 11th Five-Year Plan, said: “Any flood management plan for Pakistan must take into account that Pakistan is divided into three distinct flood zones.

“One is the upper zone where the flow of water is not very large but the velocity of the flow is so great that everything in the path of the water is destroyed. Two, we have the plains where the volume of water is immense as the tributaries of Indus join the river. Three, the lower delta region where the land is low-lying and we have no way to extract the water once it settles there. These ground realities must be considered during the planning process.”

Rick Slettenhaar added: “I am very pleased with the impressive attendance and participation by Pakistan’s ministries and organisations. This demonstrates a political and societal awareness that these floods are no longer incidental disasters but a systematic problem that must be addressed now. As we say in Dutch, you should fix the roof when it is not raining.”

While Pakistan has been inundated with flood waters and has developed the capacity for emergency relief, the need for advice on how to build a sustainable and safer water future remains.

Two-thirds of the Netherlands would flood if it were not for flood protection structures, integrated coastal development and river basin management.

The scoping mission will produce a report identifying gaps and opportunities for various stakeholders to work together to develop systemic solutions for flood control and management.

Of the meeting, Marcel de Vink, Ambassador of the Netherlands, tweeted, “Pakistani Ministries, International organisations share insights with Dutch DRR team lots of ideas across the table.”

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2015

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