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The lessons we never learn

September 15, 2011

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Almost a year from now, I remember browsing through images of the Pakistan flood victims as I sat alone in the night shift at work. I saw the hopelessness in the faces of the victims, and today I see similar expressions on this year’s flood affectees as a video plays in front of me on the television screen – a troubling reminder of government negligence perhaps?

The 2010 floods were obviously the first of its kind in Pakistan and took every one by surprise. It’s a shame that a year later we haven’t learnt at all and a large number of people are affected again.

According to various government officials, this year at least 270 people have died in Sindh, 5.3 million people and 1.2 million homes have been affected and 1.7 million acres of crops have been destroyed.

In a recent television interview with DawnNews the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD)’s Director Dr Muhammad Hanif confessed negligence in issuing a warning last year, however he said an early warning was issued for the floods to all the stake holders this year. So the question is why didn’t the responsible authorities take preventive measures?

The following image appeared in the Daily Dawn paper. As you can see the major impact of the torrential rain was on the Sindh province. The severely affected cities, this year include Badin, Nawabshah, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar, Umerkot, Tharparkar and Tando Allahyar.

Looking at the comparison it is interesting to note that the areas that somehow were spared last year from the devastation are now the most affected areas by the rain-triggered-floods.

The severe rains caused an overflow in the Tarbela and Mangla dams as the water level exceeded the capacity of the dams.

More than a year after the 2010 calamity, over 800,000 families remained without permanent shelter, according to aid group Oxfam, and more than a million people needed food assistance.

Pakistan being an agrarian society relied most on the crops that were damaged. About 2.7 million cotton bales worth Rs.3.5 billion were destroyed during recent flash floods in Sindh province as about 23 cotton growing districts of the province were badly affected due to torrential rains.

According to the Cotton Development Commissioner, Khalid Abdullah cotton (the cash crop of Pakistan) was grown in 23 districts across the province.

Out of these cotton growing districts in the province, seven districts produced 80 per cent of the total crop production and about 74 per cent of the total output was damaged due to recent flash floods in the province, he added.

Preventive measures/Long term planning?

The DG ISPR Maj Gen Athar Abbas was questioned in a talk show that why isn’t there a long term planning for dealing with the floods as each year the army seems to be caught up in the relief efforts. His reply was that the responsible authorities should take measures and not the army. So, who are the responsible authorities? The government, the NDMA, the district management?

When Mr. Yousuf Talpur MNA of Pakistan People’s Party from Tharparkar was asked about having received any warning for the rains he acknowledged that this year the warning was received but they were not able to prepare for the rains/floods as it had exceeded their expectations and termed it a “natural calamity” that could not have been avoided. However, he did blame the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) for not having provided post-flood relief.

The NDMA chairman, however, offered a statement claiming that the supply chain was affected because the workers were on leave on account of the Eid-ul-Fitar- holidays during the first spell of rains.

It seems as if the blame game never ends and instead of making a collective effort the authorities start pointing fingers at each other.

I remember reading a news article that said Global warming was responsible for the Sindh flood, well if it is responsible for the flood then what are we going to do about it collectively and individually?

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) issued a flood guideline on their website. How many people affected by the floods would have read the guidelines? Do the people living in undeveloped areas even have internet access per say?

Each year in Bangladesh around 18 per cent of the country is flooded, killing over 5,000 people and destroying 7 million homes. Bangladesh has learnt to effectively reduce the damage caused by the floods by investing in infrastructure that can sustain the floods. Perhaps the “responsible” authorities in Pakistan may want to look at Bangladesh as an example that has dealt with its recurring flood crisis.

Hypothetically speaking, if the floods occur next year, will we be ready to deal with them or will we wait for the floods to have hit us and then scratch our heads thinking what needs to be done? Will the stakeholders accept the floods as a natural calamity and just become bystanders while more destruction takes place?

* The writer is a Multi-media Content Producer at Dawn.com