ISLAMABAD: A case study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has presented real-time crop assessments of the 2022 massive floods in Pakistan and strongly recommended developing spatial analysis capacity within government agencies to ensure better preparedness for mitigating damages of future water-related disasters.

The case study of the ‘Pakistan 2022 Floods’, released this week, observed that spatial mapping could also be used to assess the impact of crop disease, pest infestations, drought, and others and to inform policymakers and decision-makers about situations pertinent to the national food supply, export earnings, and crop insurance.

The study suggests spatial mapping can also provide estimations of crop health for a wider area and do so faster than ground estimations, which require large amounts of resources, such as labour and transport, and are difficult to implement after floods or other natural hazards.

Among its key recommendations to facilitate the use of technology to enhance crop monitoring, the study recommended increasing the number of geographic information system and remote sensing specialists in relevant government agencies such as crop reporting services and statistics offices and integrating spatial analysis into statistical reporting systems to improve their accuracy and timeliness.

The use of technology can also familiarise policymakers and enable them to interpret spatial analysis results to help them make more effective decisions and plan policy actions for early detection of crop damage, rapid field verifications, mobilisation of adequate financial and material resources, and effective communication with the affected population.

The study also suggests that early detection, rapid field verification, and timely resource mobilisation can mitigate damage and help policymakers plan for robust recoveries from crop damage. The experience of the 2022 floods highlights the importance of these preparations and the need for using visual presentations of spatial analysis to communicate with the public and affected communities.

According to the ADB study, Using spatial analysis and a spectral mapping technique, the 2022 flood damage was assessed for four periods during June-September 2022 in Pakistan. The assessment conducted during the first half of September 2022 indicated that about 15 per cent of crop areas were modestly or severely damaged. The accuracy of the technique was verified by cross-checking with data gathered at the actual locations on the ground.

The study says that more than a year before the 2022 floods, the ADB started working with Pakistan government agencies and local consultants to provide them with spatial information technology skills and equipment so that they could conduct crop damage assessments.

The study reminds us that climate change is expected to increase the frequency and magnitude of floods and other extreme weather events in the future. Thus, the Government of Pakistan must be prepared to mitigate the damage. It is crucial to plan how to use real-time crop damage assessments such as spatial analysis to plan for immediate disaster assistance and recovery efforts.

The study indicated that the crop stress maps of the 2022 floods were shared with the national and provincial ministries and international organisations. Such reports were a novelty to them and were first received with scepticism and many questions.

Their responses indicated the importance of damage assessment per type of crop (rice, wheat, maise, pulses, and others), whereas the maps at the time were generic, and the intended audience needed a better understanding of the system.

The study says establishing a reliable crop stress reporting system will help government agencies prepare for future floods. For this purpose, in February 2023, the ADB project team started sharing monthly reports with relevant government agencies, which were asked to comment on the reports. Because agriculture policy is a provincial matter, monthly reports were developed for each province and shared with national and provincial government agencies.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2024

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