As the government focused on political unrest and tried to prop up the struggling economy, a climate catastrophe unfolded with frightening speed.
Widespread flooding in the south of the country has caused supply disruptions and pushed up the price of essential consumer goods by 44.58% year-on-year, according to the Bureau of Statistics. The scale of the devastation is shocking and unprecedented; at one point more than a third of the country was under water.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reported that 33 million people have been affected. 84 districts were officially declared ‘disaster’, 1,696 confirmed deaths were reported, 2.45 million houses were damaged or destroyed and more than 1.1 million head of cattle perished.
Many have fallen below the poverty line. It is difficult to determine how long it will take them to rise above. Integrative losses such as economic downturns and ripple effects on the cost of living have yet to be mapped and measured. Most officials expect losses in the order of $40 billion. The disaster of epic proportions has urged those in power to carefully assess the need for vulnerable and accurate statistics that provide precise numbers on those affected and the extent of the impact they have suffered.
The State Bank of Pakistan has previously highlighted the potential economic and financial effects of extreme weather events associated with climate change. Agricultural losses could affect the manufacturing and service sectors. The 2021 Financial Stability Report states, “Stress in a systemically important financial institution or correlated stress in smaller institutions could transmit pressure to the broader financial system.”
Poor communities are the first victims and are often left behind to bear the burden of risks, exploitation and disasters. The exclusion of these communities is never adequately addressed by governments. Home and cottage industries rely heavily on these unmapped workers in the informal sector.
These floods prompted the government to reach out to the unreached to quantify the loss and damage caused by the floods. According to initial estimates by UNICEF, about 3 million children have been affected by the floods. UN OCHA estimates that around 1.6 million women of childbearing age, including 130,000 pregnant women, are affected.
Months after the floods and rainfall, rescuers are struggling to reach several communities. So far, 9.5 million affected people have been reached. Another 20.6 million people have yet to be contacted. This week, the Pakistani government more than halved its forecast for economic growth. Pakistan is struggling to mobilize resources.
NDMA should collect comprehensive dynamic data on rivers and dams. Some colonial-era canals and flood protection works require renovation.
The system’s ability to absorb/spread floods has diminished over time. Three out of four evacuations in Sindh are dysfunctional. In addition, forecast radars are unable to detect extreme weather conditions.
Thus, it is not only the population that is not mapped, but also some of the water bodies. Over the past decade, the marshes had disappeared from the floodplains as agricultural and construction activities expanded. No reliable database has been created to quantify the damage.
In Sindh, rainfall in August was nine times the national average. A pre-disaster management approach should be integrated into the disaster risk rehabilitation strategy.
In terms of provincial and federal coordination, there is considerable duplication of effort.
Despite the establishment of the National Flood Response and Coordination Center (NFRCC), the extent of coordination required between provincial, national and international relief agencies and non-state welfare organizations is lacking.
The revised flood response plan highlighted that 14.6 million people need food security, twelve million need shelter, 8.2 million need health care, 7, 1 million need nutrition and 6.3 million need water, sanitation and hygiene. This requires more coordinated efforts at the federal, provincial and local levels.
The public health situation is worsening after the epidemic of malaria, cholera, dengue fever, water-borne diseases and skin infections. Serious interventions are needed. The Integrated Disease Surveillance and Reporting (IDSR) system is currently not implemented in many districts affected by the calamity. A health emergency must be declared in regions affected by calamities to limit the damage.
As the NDMA only focuses on post-disaster scenarios, pre-disaster planning and management is absent from the policy framework. A community’s ability to effectively manage post-disaster recovery begins with building capacity for disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery.
Pre-disaster recovery planning builds resilient communities that are better able to withstand and recover from disasters, ensuring faster reconstruction, greater community cohesion, and more effective municipal operations in the reconstruction phase that follows a disaster.
Planning can also allow for more efficient and timely access to state and federal disaster resources, including finance. For this, district disaster management authorities need to go further: to the tehsil and union council levels. An upward trajectory of disaster risk reduction must be followed.
NDMA and DDMAs should work with international donors and private agencies. Pilot projects on community preparedness for disaster risk reduction should be designed at union council level. Indigenous knowledge must inform scientific research.
Successful pilots should then be replicated at provincial, regional and national levels. A strong sense of government and community responsibility is important.
The author is a political consultant based in Islamabad