Whose Flood Is It Anyway!

Oct 28th, 2011 | By | Category: Advocacy, Development and Climate Change, Disaster and Emergency, Ecosystem Functions, Environment, Flood, Government Policies, Land, Lessons, M-20 CAMPAIGN, Migration, Opinion, Pakistan, Population, River, Urbanization, Vulnerability, Water, Weather, Youth Speak

Ms. Noreen HaiderNoreen Haider: On the night of eighth September 2011 unusual amount rain started lashing the districts of southern Sindh including Badin, Mithi, Mirpur Khas and Saanghar and continued unrelentingly for the next two days before it took a break. Its immediate effect was that large areas became inundated and communication was broken down.  The rain continued with intervals and the situation grew grimmer as people were trapped in their homes and stranded.

The rain affected districts of southern Sindh are among the poorest and most undeveloped in the country and the majority of population consists of very poor people who mostly agri-labourers called “harees” in Sindhi. A large majority lived in mud and wicker huts in villages or semi “pacca” brick houses. The rain badly damaged the extremely hazard prone small houses which were absolutely defenseless against it. The huts and small houses were either washed away or were totally inundated. The rain water destroyed whatever meager possessions that people had including dry rations and a few clothes.

Pakistani flood affected villagers carry relief supplies through floodwaters in Ghozo village, Sindh province on September 24, 2010. Torrential rain began falling in northern Pakistan in July and the floods have since moved slowly south, wiping out villages and farmland, and affecting an area roughly the size of England. The UN estimates that there are currently 1.2 million people in 6,300 camps and settlements across Pakistan with more than 80 percent of them in Sindh. Some 21 million people have been affected by floods that have ravaged Pakistan, according to UN figures, including 12 million who need emergency food aid. AFP PHOTO/RIZWAN TABASSUM (Photo credit - RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images)

The affected districts have normally dry to very dry weather and that is one of the reasons that they were so very ill prepared for the massive rains. According to Pakistan Met Department, Badin has a usual monthly average of 27 mm of rain whereas it experienced 284 mm of rain, Nawabshah has 16 mm of rain and it experienced 353.2 mm of rain and Dadu which is driest district experienced 348 mm of rain in the month of September.

The interesting thing is that the Pakistan Metrological Department had announced on 13th June 2011 from their National Weather Forecasting Center that the total rainfall received in 2011 in Pakistan would remain ten percent below normal average in Monsoon season and that was communicated to all relevant offices in all the provinces. The announcement also stated that the report was prepared with 80 percent accuracy and it was meant for planning purpose[1]. Resultantly no disaster management planning was done as no rain was expected and all relevant departments and offices went to a deeper slumber.

The rains were heavy and long and they took their toll on the weakest and the most vulnerable including the embankments of the drains, canals and small and medium sized nalas that breached from place to place and further inundated the districts including thousands and thousands of acres of agricultural land and farms. Also badly hit were the urban areas and small towns where the rain water chocked every possible drain and pipe and streets became choked with dirty water.

There are two distinct scenarios in the flood affected districts in the urban and rural areas. The damage and destruction is visible in both but they have to be seen separately. The reason of the massive breakdown of the urban areas or towns was the extremely poor quality infrastructure that existed there even before the rains. The roads were broken and full of pot holes, the drainage system was ancient and the whole area generally retained the hundreds of year old ambiance, totally unaffected by modern times.

There are almost no municipal facilities in the districts of Saanghar, Badin, Nawabshah and Tehsils like Tando Muhammad Khan, For example any visitor can actually see mountains of garbage dumped on the entrance of Saanghar district stinking to high heaven and heaped to the height of a two story building. All elected members of Sindh assembly, Chief Minister Sindh and his entourage have passed along this monstrosity many times but nothing has been done about it. This is true to most districts in Sindh. The local people have informed that theses open air garbage dumps have existed like this for years and are a part of the general landscape.

Disasters do not just happen. It is always the already existing vulnerable situation of any place combined with poor governance, in ability of the people to cope and the lack of capacity of the public departments that creates disasters out of the natural phenomenon of rains, floods or other natural hazards.

If the districts had better drainage and waste removal system and the people were not living in such painfully disaster prone housing , even the higher than average, rainfalls would not have caused much damage. There are countries in the world that have rainfalls throughout the year and it is so well managed that not a single drop is ever left standing on the roads. But in Sindh just three or four days of heavy rains was enough to cause devastation because of the rotting infrastructure, poor governance and the vulnerability of people.

Sindh Flood 2011

As for the rural areas and agricultural land the reason of their inundation is the breach of the canals, nalas and drains which further aggravated the situation of the rain affected area. The irrigation department Sind had done nothing to monitor the water channels or strengthen them where needed, all year long. The Southern Districts of Sindh are littered with small and medium sized drains and canals and they need proper maintenance.  If the recommendations of the Flood Commission report after the 2010 Floods were even marginally followed by the Sindh government this year’s devastation due to canal and drain breaches would have been avoided easily.

Rain is a natural phenomenon and a great source of fresh water to replenish the ground water. It is a shame that it turned into a disaster for so many people.

The mismanagement of the water system in Sindh has now become proverbial and the authorities have simply refused to learn anything from any disaster. Once the natural hazard turns into disaster there is usually nothing else to do but provide rescue and relief to the victims. The pre and post disaster time for planning, preparation and mitigation is all wasted doing nothing.

The poorest of the poor in Sindh are now literally left at the mercy of the elements. I have visited all the districts of Southern Sindh and travelled to far flung villages. I can say with responsibility that there is absolutely nothing being done to manage the stagnant water even in the towns, let alone the villages and farm lands, by any government agency. It is assumed that perhaps water will manage itself or eventually evaporate.

There is however a simple solution of water drainage and one does not have to be a disaster management expert to realize that. There are literally dozens of small and medium drains passing along the rain affected districts and the amazing thing is that most of them are either dry or there is very small amount of water in them. In many areas all it would take is to drain the water through pipes and pumps into the nalas in order to rid of most of it but it seems that there is no interest of the government in doing this. What the real reason behind the inertia is, only they can tell but one thing is certain that the rains have not caused disaster; they merely exposed the underlying disaster lurking for years.

[1] http://pakmet.com.pk/MON&TC/Monsoon/monsoon(2010).html

Outlook for Monsoon season (July-September)2011 PMD

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About Author: Noreen Haider has written this article for Climate Himalaya’s Youth Speak Column. Noreen is a journalist and educationist from Pakistan.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.

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One Comment to “Whose Flood Is It Anyway!”

  1. Pabitra says:

    As I see it, this flood in Pakistan is a perfect example of extreme climatic variability, one killer effect of Climate Change. The rain happened in places where people have least resilience towards such natural activity and that caused the damage manifold. Like many parts of the world, Pakistan is possibly paying for the mistakes of advanced countries and it needs an environmental policy urgently with effective mitigation/adaptation techniques. My heartfelt sympathy for the people who suffered.

    A great article, Noreen!

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