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Facing the flood

August 07, 2012

EVEN though relatively moderate, the rain has already caused a flood-like situation in some parts of Punjab. At least two of the major rivers are in medium to high flood, and 13 villages in the Sialkot area have been inundated, with crops over hundreds of acres damaged. We could expect the situation to worsen, because the met office has forecast more rain and thunderstorms for Punjab, KP, Gilgit-Baltistan and northern Sindh. Are we, then, going to see a repeat of the devastating flood of 2010 and, for Sindh, a third visitation? While this economic and humanitarian catastrophe had a national dimension in 2010, Sindh suffered twice when floods revisited it last year, causing misery that in some respects exceeded what was seen the preceding year. Yet regrettably, there is no evidence that the authorities have learnt their lessons.

On paper, federal and provincial officialdom is on its toes, flood relief centres have been set up, and the Sindh government has started registering volunteers. But Pakistan’s institutional ability to respond to disasters has come under severe international criticism. A research report by British NGOs says Pakistan isn’t ready even for “much smaller disasters” for a country prone to natural calamities on a big scale. The shortcomings the report listed included lack of coordination among government agencies, a below-standard flood warning and forecasting system, extensive deforestation, and failure to mobilise local communities. The pity is that a large number of those rendered homeless by the 2011 deluge have still not been rehabilitated, and in some cases damaged embankments beg for repairs: this much for the post-disaster effort. The ability of the National Disaster Management Authority will now be tested when rivers overflow and canals breach embankments. Clearly we will have to blame ourselves and not the elements if a new flood inflicts a fresh set of miseries on the nation.