NEARLY five months after floodwaters swept away his general store, Muhammad Fazal is rebuilding his shop on taller, sturdier foundations in the hope that he will be better prepared the next time floods hit his village.

The 28-year-old who borrowed money for the reconstruction work from a nonprofit, counts himself among the lucky ones, despite his 400,000 rupee loss.

“I’ve raised the level of my shop and I’m rebuilding it better,” he says from village of Gozo in Dadu, a part of Sindh that was hardest hit by the ruinous nationwide floods.

About five million people - mostly in Sindh and the southwestern province of Balochistan - are still exposed to floodwater months after monsoon rains and melting glaciers caused the disaster.

With waters still receding, international donors pledged more than $9 billion in Geneva last month to help the cash-strapped South Asian country recover and rebuild.

Experts suggest clearance of natural waterways, insurance of crops and livestock, flood-proof construction to ward off future destruction

In 21 major floods between 1950 and 2011 - around one every three years - Pakistan has lost about $19 billion, according to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) study in 2010.

An additional nine million people risk being pushed into poverty on top of the 33 million affected by last year’s floods, the UN development agency said on Jan 5.

This time, lessons must be learned, said Amir Ali Chandio, a political economy and human rights academic who recently retired from Sindh’s Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur.

Like many other experts, he says the loss of lives and property over the years has been aggravated by poor floodwater management at a time of rapid development and population growth.

“Natural waterways have been encroached upon. People have made their houses on waterways. Roads without bridges have also blocked the water path,” says Mustafa Mirani, chairperson of the Fisherfolk Forum civil society group.

Unchecked construction in flood-prone areas is an aggravating factor, says Ajay Kumar, an official with the Sindh Provincial Disaster Management Authority, but he said heavy rains “did the real damage” last year.

Beyond repairing the immediate damage, the flood response must be holistic and far-reaching if it is to succeed in building climate resilience, says Muhammad Ismail Kumbhar, a rural development consultant and agricultural education extension expert.

“We need a climate action plan, a climate youth policy, climate-smart agriculture and livestock. People should know how to be resilient in the face of climate change. An insurance policy for crops and livestock should be introduced,” he said.

He called for mapping of high-risk areas, and the opening of natural waterways.

Houses in areas next to coasts or riverbanks, or in other flood-prone spots, should be built on raised platforms, and farmland should be rehabilitated.Ensuring the money gets spent on the right projects is vital to the plan’s long-term success, said Malik Amin Aslam, a former aide to Pakistan’s prime minister for climate change.

“The efficacy of this funding will all depend on how transparently these funds are used to ensure they can be maximized for climate-compatible development,” said Aslam by phone.

While praising the plan, he said a more substantial chunk of the funding should be allocated to immediate and urgent relief for the millions of people still affected by the disaster.

Implementing the government’s strategy to develop “climate-resilient, sustainable and adaptive infrastructure” will only be possible if local officials are on the same page, said Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer.

“For this to work, we also need to capacitate local governments,” he said, noting that the $9 billion pledged by donors fell far short of the World Bank’s loss and damage estimate of $30 billion.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2023

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