Pakistan is among the top ten countries most affected by natural disasters, including floods, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021.

While numbers are insufficient to divulge the true footprint of a natural disaster, they can certainly underscore some of the repercussions. The catastrophic 2022 flood has taken the lives of about 1,739 people, around 13,000 suffered injuries, and roughly 2.3 million homes were damaged, affecting around 33m people in poverty-stricken areas, reveals the National Disaster Management Authority data.

Every time a natural calamity hits the country, the government follows the same prescription of emergency relief and vows to rebuild the damaged infrastructure at its earliest. However, what is highly critical yet missing in disaster management practices in Pakistan is pre-emptive and anticipatory planning, not to mention committed financial resources to respond to climate change-related disasters.

While underscoring anticipatory planning, the World Bank highlights that Pakistan needs significant investments to develop the resilience of its population and mitigate the impacts of natural disasters.

Farm households with access to agricultural extension services are 23pc more likely to implement flood adaptations strategies

As for anticipatory planning for flood management, there is an urgent need for decentralised and local-level initiatives such as communities’ autonomous adaptation to floods. However, there is a lack of empirical evidence on local communities’ adaptation to floods which could offer concrete suggestions to aid policy design and implementation.

To fill this gap, we conducted a research study on farming communities’ adaptation to flooding in Northern Pakistan. This study was supported by the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE) and was published in Ecological Economics, a high-ranked policy journal of environment and climate change economics.

The findings of this research yield some powerful insights and concrete policy suggestions to guide planners and policymakers in designing ex-ante and anticipatory policies for decentralised flood management at the local level. These findings are useful not only for policy design and implementation for floods but also for disaster management in general.

When local communities use flood adaptation strategies, their uptake is sub-optimal, and not all adaptation options are being used. This calls for a need to facilitate the uptake of flood adaptations which could be achieved through soft interventions, such as communities’ awareness about the possible adaptation measures and their effective use. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority and other relevant agencies could help implement these interventions.

Farm households with access to agricultural extension services are 23pc more likely to implement flood adaptations. This implies that a well-thought-out and well-resourced agricultural extension service has the potential to drive flood adaptation and hence improve farm households’ resilience to flooding.

Interestingly, farm households which benefited from adaptation actions in the past have a 14pc higher probability of taking up adaptation measures. Similarly, farm households that previously received monetary and/or in-kind support show a 13pc higher likelihood of adapting. This means that policymakers could target households with past adaptation experience for adaptation incentives and/or outreach activities, leveraging their prior experience of implementing flood adaptations.

Another interesting finding of this study is that market distance clearly drives adaptation uptake, as every additional kilometre to the nearest market increases the chances of adaptation by nearly 9pc. This is because households which are away from the market feel more vulnerable.

In contrast, off-farm work has a negative correlation with households’ adaptation decisions. For example, each additional off-farm worker reduces a household’s likelihood to adapt by at least 9pc. This suggests that livelihood diversification might reduce households’ vulnerability to floods and hence the need for resilience-building measures owing to additional sources of income.

The critical socioeconomic drivers of flood adaptation offer concrete policy suggestions with regard to flood adaptation in Pakistan, providing key entry points for policymakers to design and implement interventions at the local level. This could mitigate communities’ exposure to floods and hence the subsequent damages, in addition to building their resilience.

Nevertheless, the most important issue that deserves planners’ attention is to shift the flood management paradigm from short-term and reactive responses to long-term and decentralised flood management. This means there is a need to design local adaptation solutions and facilitate their uptake, and this is where the findings of our research could help planners and implanting agencies.

The writer works as a consultant to the Government of Pakistan

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 23rd, 2023

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