Hoor Asrar looks at a bad disaster & Stark weather
Pakistan is currently in the grip of Stark weather of monsoon system that has caused heavy rains and catastrophic flooding and is experiencing one of the worst disasters of its existence and currently one third of its land area is submerged in water with 33 million of its population, almost 15 per cent, suffering miserably. Floodwaters ripping through Pakistan have killed more than 1,000 people since mid-June, affected millions of others and left entire villages inaccessible to relief workers. The official machinery has termed the crisis as unprecedented as it scrambles to provide supplies, medical assistance and temporary shelter to those who have lost their homes. The provinces of Sindh and Balochistan have suffered the most destruction and complaints are pouring in of the slow and ineffective rescue efforts of the government agencies.
The head of a local humanitarian group in Balochistan has said damage to infrastructure has left some districts completely cut off. Officials say that they are struggling with limited supplies, and that relief teams are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster. The traffic between Pakistan-Afghanistan at Chaman and Pakistan-Iran at Taftan also witnessed disruption due to the heavy downpour that damaged highways connecting the country with its neighbours. According to official sources, Nasirabad, Jaffarabad, Sohbatpur, Jhal Magsi, Kalat, Bolan, and Lasbela districts were facing heavy floods.
The floods are the worst to hit Pakistan in over a decade with initial government figures suggesting that they could be more devastating than the 2010 floods that killed hundreds and left millions homeless. Already battling a spiraling economic crisis and practical financial meltdown the Pakistani government is appealing for outside help. The situation is exacerbated by intense political instability with country’s former prime minister roaming around fanning hatred against his rival politicians and challenging the country’s powerful establishment.
The problems began when exceptional rainfall began falling across Pakistan in June following months of historic heat waves and little precipitation. Rainfall rates picked up even more the next month, as the country received 180 per cent more rain than the average, making it the wettest July on record since 1961. Rainfall amounts were 450 per cent above average in Balochistan and 307 per cent above average in Sindh, a record for both provinces. Punjab province, in the north, experienced its second wettest month and received 116 per cent more than normal.
The devastation is wide and serious with senior government figures earlier estimates show that this disaster has caused at least $10bn of damage. The torrential rains have also washed away roads, crops, homes, bridges and other infrastructure. It is estimated that the country would face serious food shortages in the coming weeks and months adding incalculable misery. Pakistan’s climate change minister described the situation as a climate-induced humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.
The relentless wet weather has pummeled the country, wreaking havoc on infrastructure in rural areas as well as the cities. Destruction of property has also been considerable, as around 9,000 houses have partially or completely been damaged. The high volume of rainfall has resulted in familiar misery: flooded roads, deaths due to electrocution, electricity breakdowns and the paralysis of normal life. In the cities, drainage systems have collapsed and the concrete jungle has choked natural rainwater run-off channels.
The government is utilising all available resources to help the flood victims and is stressing that the local administrations and provinces needed more resources to deal with the catastrophe. It underscored the need to meet the shortfall in resources, emphasising attracting partners and donors at the national and international level. Teams of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Army have been deployed in flood-affected areas across the country to rescue people.
Videos and photos emerging on social media show towns, villages, and cities inundated with no sign of life. The government has urged the nation to donate money for the rain-affected areas with donations to be deposited to the Prime Minister Relief Fund Account 2022. In this connection it was mentioned that all commercial banks and their branches can collect donations in the Prime Minister Flood Relief Fund 2022 as per State Bank of Pakistan circular and that overseas Pakistanis can also send donations through wire transfers, money service bureaus, money transfer operators and exchange houses. The government has also decided to launch an international appeal seeking funds for relief and rehabilitation of flood-hit people and restoration of damaged infrastructure.
Climate-induced flooding is caused primarily by two key processes that also lead to changes in the monsoon patterns: first, warmer air produces more rain. As global air temperatures increase, the clouds can hold more water vapour resulting in more water-intense or torrential downpours. Second, the seawater rise has increased coastal flooding but the higher levels of temperatures at sea give higher temperature points to the clouds and indeed greater ability to enter farther over land. The increasing frequency of flooding in Balochistan is sometimes attributed to these westerly weather influences, rather than the traditional eastern monsoon originating from the Bay of Bengal.
This change in the weather cycle seems to have added to the frequency and severity of floods in the typically non-monsoon areas of Balochistan. Flooding has indeed emerged as the worst type of climate-induced disaster for the country, perhaps the deadliest. Instead of focusing on the real issue the official circles blame climate change and try to ward-off attention from poor early warning systems, inefficient government agencies and the haphazard growth of human settlements.
This kind of disaster was waiting to happen as Pakistan’s flawed development model has made lives insecure in both the urban and rural areas. The development path chosen has resulted in a competitive, even zero-sum relationship with Pakistan’s natural environment — forests, waterways, water-bodies and ecosystems. Gravity propels the water flow, but Pakistani development model is insisting on defying gravity as its settlements, infrastructure, economy, livelihoods and livestock, all have become unnecessarily vulnerable and fragile primarily because the country’s planners have been obstructing water’s flow. Now the floodwaters are only reclaiming their right of way.
Infrastructure and community assets, including the ones developed since the super floods such as the 11 small dams in Balochistan, are being washed away, damaged or destroyed. Roads and railway tracks are often without culverts; they continue to obstruct the water flow. Land-use changes happen at will, resulting in urban sprawls as well as grand housing societies and villagers’ unplanned hamlets, often clashing with the annual flood cycles.
The recent example of the fact that the official circles pay scant heed to reasonable methods of amelioration as has become evident by the obstacles placed in the way international NGOs by the government that will only hamper relief work and prevent much-needed help from getting to the vulnerable. Complaints are multiplying that the government is not giving permission to many foreign outfits already active in the country. Considering that the state itself has appealed to the international community to lend helping hand in the flood-relief effort, the creation of roadblocks for INGOs is both self-contradictory and counterproductive. The government agencies conveniently forget that in 2005 earthquake and the 2010 super floods, foreign relief organisations did a commendable job in helping Pakistan cope with the natural calamities. TW