When it rains, it pours

Spearhead Analysis – 18.09.2014

By Enum Naseer
Senior Research Analyst,
Spearhead Research

Pakistan FloodThe government has been taken by surprise—this is an ‘unexpected situation’ for a country that receives the tail-end of the monsoon system and is on the verge of being classified as ‘water scarce’. While the naivety of the people’s representatives is most unfortunate, it should also be acknowledged that the floods could not have come at a more inopportune hour. Though problems of a political nature have been eating up most of the time that the ruling party devotes to the service of the country, the fact remains that floods in Pakistan are not a novel occurrence. The current floods in Pakistan have claimed the lives of more than 300 people and displaced almost two million in addition to destroying 400,000 acres of farmland. The masses are witnessing a re-run of the past: just a year ago, monsoon rains caused massive flooding affecting the lives of nearly 1.5 million and damaging 1.5 million acres of crops.

For a country that relies heavily on agriculture to drive economic growth, a lack of initiative vis-a-vis raising the level of disaster preparedness to cope with the impact of floods can have dire consequences. In the absence of a proper risk management approach, the masses and vast tracts of cultivatable land are both exposed to the effects of climate change. If the vision to pave way for the development of a safer society is truly there, it must be backed by an action plan that focuses on improving forecasting and early warning and evacuation systems as well as working on conservation of Pakistan’s water resources.

From the construction of dams to tweaking harvest timetables and bringing new mixed varieties of wheat, rice and sugarcane which can grow faster and survive more extreme weather conditions, several issues need to be addressed. A long-term view should be taken and a firm commitment to continued and effective action should be made. The National Climate Change Policy should serve as a basis for figuring out tactical measures to safeguard the country against the impact of floods, which are only likely to become more powerful and dangerous in the future.

The Asian Development Bank in a recent report titled: ‘Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia’ has stated that “Climate change will affect South Asia more than most other regions. South Asia’s weather is likely to become hotter than the global average, while monsoon rains and heavy storms will increase in most parts of the region. As well, the mountainous countries face increased flooding and landslides, while the coastal countries of the region are likely to be partly inundated by sea-level rise”.

This catastrophe should serve as both: a wake-up call for policy circles and an opportunity for the ruling party that has lost significant political capital to make a strong comeback as it takes swift and decisive measures to build a safer environment and accelerate Pakistan’s journey towards economic excellence. Continued negligence and policy inaction will only complicate the problems faced by the country; the nation is once again dangerously close to missing its projected growth target of 5% due to a major agricultural loss in Punjab according to Senator Dar. Together, the terrorism problem, the political impasse and the heavy floods have resulted in a depreciation of the national currency to stand at nearly 103 to a dollar. While the nation awaits the statistics highlighting the extent of damage caused by the floods to various sectors of the economy and the physical and social infrastructure, it is important that a careful evaluation of medium and long-term policy options be kick-started.

An appreciation of the symbiosis between security and economic development will help understand the challenges that stand in the way of economic revival. In a larger context as well, it will make the government’s agenda-setting exercise much more effective and worthwhile. The task before the leadership is immense: it must come up with a holistic overarching framework to address key issues faced by the country and back strategy with political will to facilitate proper implementation.