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Threat of floods

March 21, 2019

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PAKISTAN has seen many floods, the one that hit the country in 2010 being the most destructive in its history. Over 2,000 lives were lost and more than 20m people displaced as a third of the country’s total area was submerged in floodwater. The damage to infrastructure, agriculture, livestock and homes was estimated to be $10bn, with millions of people losing their savings and livelihoods. Many affected by the deluge have yet to recover from the trauma they had suffered; the painful memories of the devastation suffered nine years ago are still fresh. The warning by two senior government officials that the country could face a “major or super flood” this year, then, would have been cause for much alarm for them. The officials told a parliamentary panel on Tuesday that the higher-than-normal snowfall in the north caused by climate changes this winter had increased the chances of a major deluge during the next monsoon season.

Natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes cannot be averted. But steps can always be taken to minimise the damage to the life and property of the people, so that these calamities do not turn into human disasters. Sadly, successive governments have failed to plan and implement measures to avert loss of life, property and livelihoods. Little has been done to protect the flood-insecure areas of KP, Punjab and Sindh since the most devastating deluge hit the country. No movement has been made on the fourth Flood Protection Programme approved by the CCI in 2017, involving a total cost of Rs326bn. Approval for flood-protection projects is still being awaited from Ecnec. Paltry funds are set aside in the budgets to meet the challenges of climate change; only a small portion of these allocations is actually spent on addressing environmental concerns, because such plans involve a longer gestation time and are not considered popular enough to win votes. The chances of the government releasing even a small slice of the funds — Rs15bn has been demanded by the officials for flood-protection activities — are minimal. With the monsoon season approaching fast and snow on the mountains about to melt in a few weeks, we might be in for another human disaster in the country — unless priority flood-protection projects are implemented on a war footing, especially in the highly flood-insecure areas. That is the minimum a government can do for those living in the danger zone.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2019