Newspaper Article 08/09/2022
Balochistan has been the worst hit in recent floods as 95 percent of the province was inundated in the flash floods. The unusual monsoon rains were 500 percent greater than average, which the poor infrastructure in the province could not sustain. The most extensive damage happened to the province’s communication facilities, especially bridges linking districts and other provinces. Consequently, Balochistan has been cut off from the Punjab, Sindh and KP provinces for the past two weeks. While nature could be blamed for the devastation, human error, incompetence and corruption over the decades have been primarily responsible for the severity of the destruction in the province. Ironically, no questions have been asked; no responsibility has ever been fixed whenever such a calamity has hit Balochistan or elsewhere in the country.
No doubt, the scale of the devastation was so severe that no country with modern technology could overcome the disaster. However, in the aftermath of the disaster, the competence of officials was on display.
Owing to the enormity of the crisis, there has been international sympathy for Pakistan. These floods have been part of the phenomenon now recognized as climate change on the global scale with dire consequences. Pakistan falls in the category of countries more vulnerable to fast-changing climate, while its share of impacting the environment is a mere 0.3 percent. Therefore, Pakistan is paying the cost for the other polluters responsible for the rise in global temperatures, droughts and devastating floods. Such catastrophic floods should serve as a clarion call for the world to address the challenges of fast climate change.
According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), 34 districts and at least 360,000 people in Balochistan have been affected, including 238 people killed and 106 injured as of 27 August 2022. More than 700,000 livestock have perished across Pakistan, of which some 500,000 are reported in Balochistan province, where livestock is a critical source of sustenance and livelihood for most families. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Balochistan’s sub-office, has estimated that “at least 17,500 houses have been destroyed and another 43,900 partially damaged.” The top four most affected districts in terms of completely damaged houses are Jhal Magsi, Lasbela, Nushki and Kachhi. In addition to homes and croplands, 1,000 km of roads and 18 bridges have also been damaged and impede access across flood-affected areas.
The UNDP Balochistan data shows that in Balochistan, almost 83 percent of houses are categorized as kaacha houses, 8 percent are pakka, and 10 percent are composite houses. Therefore, kaacha houses could not withstand the floods and collapsed immediately. Internet outages have also been reported, with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority attributing widespread internet cuts in central and northern Pakistan on 19 August to technical faults in the fibre-optic network resulting from the heavy rains and floods.
It is undoubtedly a national disaster; almost one-third of Pakistan is submerged in water which may take weeks and months to recede. Besides providing food and shelter to the affected, water-borne diseases would pose a severe challenge to the authorities. The education sector in the province has already been suffering neglect for decades. With devastating floods, education will suffer more. These challenges become more acute in Balochistan when seen from the perspective of governance, inefficiencies, incompetence and corruption, especially when a calamity visits the province. This also calls into question the sincerity of the ruling elite in the province, whose callousness towards the people is legendary.
It is not only the bad governance, but also a complete lack of accountability to find the causes of dam-burst, particularly in those areas where dams were built during the last decade. It’s a shame for the engineers and contractors responsible for building dams, bridges and culverts that the floods could wash away their masterpieces while over a century old dams and bridges built by the British still serve the people.
Dealing with natural calamities has rarely been given proper attention to what to talk about, devising strategies to tackle them. The question arises of what preventive measures have been taken at the governmental level, particularly when the country had already witnessed massive floods in 2010. Unfortunately, the country’s elite is entangled in power tussle at the cost of people’s interests, such as health, education, and employment.
Luckily, the NGOs reaching out to the needy compensate for the lack of governmental initiative. Approximately, over three thousand NGOs are engaged in the relief work, although there are reports that some NGOs are involved in malpractices. The involvement of the Armed forces in the relief work is an enormous solace for the people entrapped in the deluge in the country’s far-flung areas where no civilian officials or NGOs could reach out. Hopefully, district administrations may have come up with correct data on the affected people to mitigate their suffering.
Natural calamities, whether earthquakes, typhoons or floods, pose a severe challenge to the countries. With drastic changes in the climate, weather patterns have started changing much faster than anticipated by scientists or governments. Once it is recognized that we are faced with an enormous challenge, finding remedies should be possible if government officials have done their homework. The establishment of the National Disaster Management Authority and Provincial Disaster Management Authority has yet to gain traction to overcome challenges posed by natural or man-made disasters. Based on interviews with experts in disaster management, a host of measures have been identified to face such difficulties in future.
• First, the governments at the federal and provincial levels must have emergency response teams ready 24/7 to respond to any emergency.
• Second, a massive training programme at the district and tehsil level should be imparted to the first responders, equipped with necessary equipment to carry out rescue operations.
• Third, it should be clear to the government authorities that building structures, such as hotels or houses, along the river banks is always dangerous. No such structures should be allowed close to rivers or canals.
• Four, a thorough oversight mechanism should be in place whenever a bridge or dam is built to ensure maximum safety. A close watch has to be maintained, especially if a flood forecast is announced.
• Fifth, an effective supply chain is crucial in delivering relief goods. The government has to ensure an uninterrupted supply of relief to the people.
• Sixth, health facilities in disaster-hit regions must be provided to the people, especially women and children.
• Seventh, more importantly, education facilities have to be resumed as early as possible so that the children can be saved from post-calamity trauma.
Note: This article appeared in BOL, dated 08 September 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.