A wake up call

Spearhead Opinion – 12.08.2015

By Enum Naseer
Senior Research Analyst,
Spearhead Research

Flood in Chitral PakistanIt is believed that in the developing world, climate change acts as a ‘threat multiplier’ and poses the greatest challenge to the well-being of societies. Experts have for long warned that the intensity of floods in Pakistan will increase in the future.  For a country that is already at its most vulnerable, the apparent apathy vis-à-vis climate change and its impact on human security is concerning.

Estimates suggest that more than 0.7 million people are affected by floods in Pakistan every year which makes for a yearly loss of USD2.7 billion (1% of GDP). It is most unfortunate that the country must suffer each year as the political executive and the bureaucratic machinery resort to theological determinism when it comes to questions of disaster preparedness and minimization of losses.

This year, at least 170 people were killed in monsoon rains and nearly one million have been affected by the floods. Glacial melt caused by extreme temperatures in July exacerbated the situation. According to the NDMA, 5,800 homes have been damaged in around 2,500 villages, and 920,000 people have been displaced by the floods.  While the relief efforts launched by the armed forces after the floods have been commendable, it is shocking that despite repeated episodes of heavy flooding, the government still has a reactive approach to the problem responding after large swathes of the country are flooded.

Constructing reservoirs, protecting forests, strengthening early flood warning systems and passing strict legislation against settlement in floodplain zones are all steps that will prove to be instrumental in reducing the damage caused by flooding. What Pakistan needs right now is a well thought out, holistic approach for flood risk management that is implemented in an effective and timely manner. The country’s fourth national flood protection plan for 2015-2025 is in the pipeline and could pave way for a paradigm shift as it takes on an integrated approach incorporating other non-conventional ‘soft’ measures such as reforestation and mapping floodplains among others.  Rapidly changing weather patterns, floods and erratic rains not only jeopardize human lives but also destroy vast tracts of land diminishing the ability of farmers to grow crops. In the recent past, the consecutive floods from 2010-2014, the drought in Thar and rains and hailstorm in the north and the east have taken a toll on food production. If the trend is allowed to continue unchecked, it can have serious repercussions for Pakistan’s food security.

There is a dire need to press for reform and effective oversight of the country’s disaster management policy especially at a time when the effects of climate change are so visible. A debate should be started on the media to provide food for thought to policymakers and to educate the electorate on the benefits of construction of dams. These measures must take the shape of a multi-faceted policy that addresses environmental challenges faced by Pakistan where all concerned government agencies share information and collude on goals so that the country’s vulnerability vis-à-vis climate change can be mitigated. Our understanding of the security environment cannot be simplistic at such a crucial point in the country’s history: when we speak of nullifying security risks, we must factor in the impact of environmental challenges. A parochial attitude will only deepen the crisis and prove to be a hurdle in the journey towards a better and more secure future.