A screengrab of a video by the PDMA shows people being rescued in Karwan area of Bela, Balochistan | PDMA Facebook
A screengrab of a video by the PDMA shows people being rescued in Karwan area of Bela, Balochistan | PDMA Facebook

Pakistan contributes less than one percent to global warming in terms of greenhouse gases’ emissions as compared to the highly industrialised countries. However, it is one of the top 10 countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change.

Over the last decade, the repercussions of climate change have been gradually unfolding across the country, with symptoms including erratic rainfall, water scarcity, rising temperatures, the melting of glaciers, flash floods and rising sea levels.

Like other parts of the country, Balochistan — consisting mostly of dry and arid regions — has also been hit by climate change, after continuously facing lower-than-normal rainfall, with subsequent droughts and water scarcity. Over the past two months, however, the province was confronted with abrupt heavy rains, leading to flash floods during monsoon season.

This season’s monsoon rain, which has already broken a 30-year record, has turned into a nightmare for Balochistan and brought devastation upon its people. The disaster that has unfolded in Balochistan before our eyes, is a cautionary tale about our unpreparedness for climate change.

The death toll from the floods in Balochistan is rising every day even as thousands of houses and livestock and hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural lands have been washed away, leading to prospects of long-term economic repercussions. Could this disaster have been avoided or at least handled better?

Avoidable Negligence

The government showed little understanding of the visible warning signs and took no action to preempt the flooding that followed. Despite being well aware of the possibility of heavy rainfall weeks before, the provincial government of Balochistan failed to devise a concrete plan to counter the crisis at the earliest in order to protect the lives of the poor people living in mud houses in rural as well as urban areas.

The authorities sprung to action only after the situation was beyond control and the flash floods had already drowned scores of people and swept away thousands of houses, damaging both private property and public infrastructure.

The extent of the provincial government’s obliviousness to people’s suffering in such a terrible situation can only be judged through the heart-wrenching visuals shared on social media, where people were seen helplessly taking dead bodies out of the waters.

Had there been no social media, the cries of help of the victims would probably not have reached the authorities. The mainstream electronic media too began reporting the unfolding disaster only after the heart-wrenching visuals from Balochistan were shared on social media.

The Losses

Over the last month, thousands of people in Balochistan have lost everything to the flash floods caused by torrential rains. They have lost their loved ones, their homes and their belongings. As of August 7, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) put the death toll at 170, with 75 injured since June 14. Among them, 43 females, 55 children and 72 males have died, and 11 females, 16 children and 48 males have been injured so far.

Regarding the damage to infrastructure and loss of private property, the PDMA reports that 18,087 houses have been damaged in the province during this period, out of which 13,385 are partially damaged and 4,702 completely destroyed.

The flash floods have also damaged approximately 670 kilometres of roads and 16 bridges while 23,013 livestock has also been lost across the province. Overall, 34 districts have been hit, affecting a population of 360,000. According to Balochistan Chief Secretary Abdul Aziz Uqaili, more than 200,000 acres of agricultural land has also been affected.

Sadly, the numbers keep rising. What we know are only reported numbers. As per circumstantial evidence that locals are sharing, the actual figures in the peripheral areas seem yet to be taken into account.

Relief is reaching some of the affectees gradually now. However, their grief is beyond mere short-term assistance. After visiting some of the affectees who have managed to find shelter in camps, it was observed that they are extremely worried about their livelihoods in the long-term. A majority of Balochistan’s population is affiliated with agriculture and livestock, and both resources have been hit hard by the natural disaster.

This will severely impact the economic conditions, in particular, of the lower-middle class dwelling in the peripheries. According to an estimate by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics in May 2020, nearly 41 percent of households in Balochistan live below the income poverty line. The calamity is going to further increase poverty in the region if the provincial government does not take long-term initiatives regarding economic recovery for the poor farmers and others who have lost their sources of income to the floods.

Healing Balm?

To soothe the grievances of the flood affectees, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif made two high-profile visits to the province within three days. Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo appeared later for an on-ground survey. In his interaction with the flood-affected locals and residents, the PM promised to provide compensation of one million rupees each to families who have lost a member. He also announced a compensatory amount of 0.2 million rupees for a partially damaged house and 0.5 million rupees for a completely damaged house.

While the importance of the prime minister’s visits cannot be denied in terms of pure optics — after a long time, at least the federal government looked like it genuinely cared about Balochistan — even during the visits it became clear that the government machinery was not capable.

For example, many affectees in camps complained that they had not been fed, which disturbed the premier enough for him to order the suspension of the district coordination officer and an immediate supply of food and rations. Later on, media reports indicated that some local administrations tasked with supplying relief goods were asking for the computerised national identity cards (CNICs) from affectees who had had all their belongings swept away in the floods.

Rescue and Relief Operations

Published on August 7, the Monsoon 2022 Daily Situation Report by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) stated that 600 people had been rescued while 7,000 people were shifted to relief camps through relief operations underway since June 14. The following table shows the relief provided by the NDMA, the PDMA and other humanitarian agencies:

The above-mentioned statistics may seem impressive, but the ground reality shows a different picture altogether. Local activists and journalists in Balochistan report that the concerned authorities remain negligent of the people’s suffering. Relief activities are lagging due to bureaucratic red-tape and, resultantly, the unnecessary delay in providing food and shelter to the affectees is compounding the crisis there.

If the affected people are still waiting for food, one can only wonder when they will be provided with other necessities of daily use.

Post-Disaster Assessment

The post-disaster assessment indicates that the negligence of the provincial government in infrastructural development programmes paved the path for the unfortunate large-scale disaster.

Most dams in Balochistan are either poorly constructed or ill-designed, lacking a proper structure. For instance, many small dams and reservoirs broke after being filled to their maximum capacity, while many were on the verge of breaking apart, putting the lives of more people at risk. So, the severity of the situation escalated exponentially due to the lack of a well-developed infrastructure.

As the federal government collaborates with the provincial and extends support, the provincial government must ensure that relief in terms of food and shelter and financial assistance to all the affected people is provided swiftly.

Moreover, it must also consider developing a durable weather-friendly infrastructure across the province, so that future extreme weather events can be managed in a timely manner and countered efficiently.

The writer is a political commentator and a public policy analyst based in Balochistan.

He tweets @khanzqasim

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 14th, 2022

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