THE devastating floods sweeping the length and breadth of the country have caused more damage to life, property and livelihood than the 2010 floods.
Preliminary assessments put the total cost of physical losses around $11 billion this year and overall economic losses close to about 3 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
However, this disaster will definitely take a 3pc chunk out of the projected growth rate of 5pc, with authorities not expecting more than 2pc growth after the floods.
The sum total of damages may vary at the end of the Damage and Needs Assessment, when another, albeit weaker rainfall system hits the country next week.
In 2010, the losses to physical infrastructure amounted to $9.5-10bn and the overall economic impact stood at about 2pc of the GDP, as the country’s growth rate fell to 2.4pc against a target of 4.5pc.
At the time, almost 20 million people were displaced and about 50,000 sq kms were submerged. However, the damage assessment in rupees was around Rs850bn ($10bn) in 2010, compared to over Rs2.5 trillion ($11bn) this year.
According to data put together by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the number of the affected population this year has exceeded 33 million already – 33,046,329 to be precise – over 80 districts across Pakistan, except Azad Jammu and Kashmir which remained mostly unaffected this year.
The overall rains between July and August, according to officials in the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), have been about 208pc above-normal.
However, as compared to 2010, river flows are significantly lower and reservoir storages even fewer amid limited rainfall in the catchment areas.
Editorial: Impact on industry
Another peculiar feature of this year’s rain and floods has been the localised cloud bursts in unusual areas and plains, rather than riverine flooding that occurs in mountains and catchment areas of major reservoirs. “The most astonishing thing this year was that in the catchments of eastern rivers in Kashmir, the rainfall was 5pc below normal”, a senior PMD official said, explaining that this was the reason that Mangla Dam was still at less than 50pc of its storage capacity and would not be filled to capacity this year – something that would pose a challenge in the coming Rabi crop season.
The monsoon rains are usually driven by westerly waves from the Bay of Bengal, moving through India towards the northeastern or southern parts of the country. But this year, consecutive systems mostly moved further west and vast amounts of rain fell in parts of Balochistan, which lies outside the range of the normal monsoon and receives most of its rainfall in the winter months.
PMD weather pundits attribute this to climatic change, as pressure patterns and weather conditions are affecting monsoon currents as well, but they are still reluctant to publicly comment without having a detailed data analysis and scientific study to back this claim.
They, however, agree that the frequency and quantity of extreme weather conditions are definitely expanding to new areas in Pakistan.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa faced the brunt of the devastation in 2010, with almost 90pc of all 1,985 deaths occurring there. Besides, damages to housing, roads, bridges and other infrastructure were caused by a combination of cloud bursts and the westerly monsoon in the catchment areas of the Indus and Kabul rivers, which also affected the Chenab zone.
This year, however, the magnitude of cloud bursts was high, resulting in massive devastation in Sindh, Balochistan and KP, but river flows remained on the lower side.
In 2010, river flows were so high that ‘high’ to ‘very high floods’ continued for weeks from upstream Tarbela dam to Kotri barrage and below, but this year, ‘very high flood’ was recorded at Nowshera for a couple of days, while all other recording points remained ‘normal’ to ‘very high’.
Officials suggest that Wapda’s gauging system was wiped away on August 26 when 350,000 cusecs hit Nowshera, which crossed the 602,000 cusec mark at Attock, while another 260,000 cusecs flow broke through the bays and destroyed heavy machinery, which resulted in damages to the headworks.
Yet, these flows are almost 13pc lower than the 10-year average, showing that most of the flooding was caused by hill torrents, to the extent of 8-10 million acre feet. As a result, about 17MAF of water has gone downstream Kotri since the start of Kharif season on April 1, yet the total storage at major reservoirs is still less than 9.5MAF against a capacity of about 13.5MAF – meaning that around 30pc of reservoir capacity remains un-utilised.
As a consequence of this inundation, cotton, which is the mainstay of exports and a major Kharif crop, is estimated to have lost almost half (5.5 million bales) of its current year’s target of 11 million bales. The destruction of roads and physical infrastructure coupled with crop losses has already sent prices of perishable items skyrocketing.
But when the 2010 floods hit, they coincided with high commodity rates, particularly oil prices which rose to to $125 per barrel from $80. Likewise, the current floods have also hit the country when it the population is already braving historic inflationary pressures and international commodity prices.
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2022