Popular punching bag of politicians—the military—is out in the field reaching out to the sufferers of the ongoing floods. Military operated helicopters and boats have emerged as a beacon of hope for the effectees. In Punjab, Chief Minster Punjab has been seen leading the disaster management effort from the front. Chief Minister of KPK has spent most of the flooding season on a paid holiday, enjoying the orchestra of ongoing political picnic at D chowk; Chief Minister of Sindh was surprised to find that flood preventing dykes were in dilapidated state, with no improvement since 2010; media splashed his worrisome images while he was helplessly requesting the officials to do something about it.
Water boarding is a form of water torture, causing physical injuries and lasting psychological damage. In America, water boarding is used as a tool for investigation. During monsoon season we, as a nation, go through this agony on yearly basis without resorting to any meaningful medium and long-term strategies to at least mitigate its effects. Side effects of each such flood are felt for years.
Every time, there is systemic collapse of administrative and civic structures leading to inadequate flow of food supplies and preventive medicines to the people caught up in the flood. VIPs make a beeline to flood affected areas for photo-ops in make shift fake relief camps. Only a small tickle of benefits doled out by the state reaches the deserving ones. Attempts by desperate victims to snatch limited rations off trucks or scoop grain off the ground portray depressing images of their classic misery and helplessness. National Disaster Management Authority has become a blame shifting entity. Onus of inefficiency is craftily shifted to contributory causes. Ensuing disease, death and loss of personal belongings inflict lasting psycho-social effect on the suffering families. The infrastructure suffers enormous damage and consumes time and capital intensive restorative effort. Often an international appeal is made, radiating a message to the international community that Pakistan is unable to handle even a fairly predictable and recurring issue.
A climate vulnerability report released by environmental think-tank Germanwatch counted Pakistan among the three countries most affected by extreme weather events in 2012. This organization released a report titled Global Climate Risk Index 2014 during the United Nations climate summit in Poland, which stated that Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan were worst hit by climate-related catastrophes in 2012. The report also noted that Pakistan has been among the three most affected countries for three consecutive years. The 2014 report has also published a Climate Risk Index for 1993-2010, with Pakistan ranked as the 12th most affected country by climate-related events over the last two decades; the extreme weather calamities caused Pakistan economic losses worth 0.7% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over 20 years.
Analysis of historic data reveals a definitive pattern indicating a four-yearly repetitive water flow pattern, moving between flash flood and semi-drought conditions. This is good enough for broader planning; however there is a need to improve the flood warning and rain forecast sub-systems for accurate planning and micro management. Improved early warning systems, strongly advocated by numerous expert studies have not yet been put in place. Experts say we are attempting to deal with lethal floods while using age-old methods. A number of reports have highlighted the need to manage rivers, waterways and barrages in a more modern, more effective, way. We have not developed means to do so.
The worst flood occurred in 2010, when 2,000 people were killed; the largest number was in KPK. Over the past four years, Sindh has suffered terrible flood damage, despite the fact that it gets maximum early warning. Current floods have demonstrated, yet once again, that unless state structures are geared up to handle the catastrophe in a comprehensive manner, rescue measures can play only a limited role.
Adequate preventive measures can be instituted to turn the recurring crises of floods into an economic opportunity. The issue we face is of water management (read mismanagement). There is huge gap between the availability of quantum of water during shortage and surplus periods. Time-span wise, these spells are apart only by four to six weeks. Moreover, once the uncontrolled water is wasted into Arabian Sea, the country returns back to the status of water scarcity. Statistics of 2010 floods reveal that water equivalent of over five times storage capacity of Mangla and Terbela dams was wasted into Arabian Sea.
If this surplus flood/rain water could be reigned in, it can offset the water scarcity during substantial portion of each year. Effects of ongoing flood could have been mitigated to a large extent, had we built adequate rain/flood water storage facilities. Water stored during such surge flooding could be used for supplementing water supplies during the periods of water scarcity. Likewise an efficient drainage system could have detoured the surplus water through rerouting, thus mitigating the intensity of flood waves, as they moved from north to south.
There is a need to ascertain the existing water storage capacity and quantum of surplus water that has flown into the sea during such flooding; identify the shortfall and determine the requirement for storage enhancement through up-gradations of existing reservoirs and construction of new ones. Moreover, we also need to focus on capacity shortfall of existing drainage system and undertake appropriate enhancement measures. Furthermore, a composite strategy should be worked out for enmeshing drainage and storage through interlinking the two for achieving an efficient storage/drainage combine through water regulation. This warrants holistic audits of the existing water storage capacity and national drainage system.
Keeping in view the sensitivities of the provinces with regard to water management issues, the provinces may be encouraged to develop their own rain/floodwater storage infrastructures. Provinces should have exclusive rights of usage over their stored rain/flood water. Moreover, inter province sale of surplus water on federally approved rates could create an incentive for the provinces to invest in this venture.
Proposed methodology comprises of various means aimed at synergizing their effects, these are: all available technologies should be employed to enhance the water storage capacities of all existing dams through raising their height and regular dredging of reservoirs; existing natural water lakes’ storage capacity may be enhanced through expansion/dredging; during the floods, water released through spillway gates of dams and head works should not join the same main stream. Rather it should go to designated water storage facilities, or flow into designated drainage channels;additional regular and rainwater dams should be built; apart from dams, suitable locations need to be identified for building new flood/rain water storage facilities. Hilly ridges of Margala, Kallr Kahar and Chiniot offer such natural sites.
A scientifically carried out feasibility survey would reveal numerous locations where water storage facilities could be built/improvised/upgraded; envisaged National Drainage System should, inter alia, comprise of two high speed water channels running almost entire length of country, from north to south , one on east of river system, the other on west of river system. These channels should be so routed to connect all water storage facilities through feeding-in as well as feeding-out mini channels, through water regulatory mechanism.
This format of storage-drainage-composite would facilitate inter-location shifting of water. Net surplus that is beyond the net storage capacity of the country should keep pouring into these two envisaged drainage channels for final disposal into Arabian Sea. Existing national drainage system may be reconfigured/ upgraded to take the new format.
A “National Water Management Policy” is long overdue; beside flood/rain water issues, it should also provide a long term direction for water conservation, recycling and pollution mitigation.
The Nation September 14, 2014
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.