Floods In Pakistan: Lessons Learnt, Lessons Lost

Floods In Pakistan: Lessons Learnt, Lessons Lost
"Much of Pakistan is still underwater; it needs help," U.S. President Joe Biden alerted the world from the U.N. forum, rallying all to come together and defy the "human cost of climate change."

He's right, we all know we're already living in a climate crisis. And at that international platform this week, unprecedented floods in Pakistan and unprecedented drought in the Horn of Africa became the faces of this crisis.

The catastrophic monsoon rains that ended up flooding one-third of Pakistan is an indication that other countries are equally vulnerable to climatic changes occurring around the globe. Most of Pakistan's officials, from top government leaders to the country's representatives in the U.S., have been urging the international community to make a 'quick transition from mitigation and adaptation to preparedness and resilience.'

As considerable as the above request might be, Pakistan as a country stopped short at implementing this transition itself. It's unavoidable to compare the devastation from recent floods with the one that Pakistan experienced in 2010. Currently, a population of 33 million has been affected, notwithstanding the exponential population explosion. Last time, the affected population was around 20 million.

What happened in this past decade was that lessons learnt were lost, conveniently.

The authorities in Pakistan failed to prepare or implement a long term response strategy for any future disasters. Inputs and activities from building up emergency shelters to reconstruction and rehabilitation were grossly ignored along with the stages of continuum to optimise the use of resources for permanent recovery, and minimum waste and redundancy. The flood disaster and destruction the nation is facing now could have been reduced and managed.

Experts and organisations that were instrumental in the recovery process of the 2010 floods mainly argue that transparency and accountability, community participation and political will have been non-existent since then. They insist that Disaster Risk Management programs were not incorporated in any of the national or provincial development plans throughout this time. These plans were suggested by humanitarian aid and flood relief related organisations down to the district level.

Consider this that the United Nations' Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-Spider) and Pakistan's own Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) published a joint 'Lessons Learnt from Floods in Pakistan' in 2010, outlining that in order for Pakistan to "ensure its efforts towards improving risk reduction are achieved, major improvements have to be made, through the use of remote sensing and GIS technologies in conjunction with flood management and its inter-relationship to flood hazard assessment and planning."

Pakistani authorities knew what might be coming ahead but unwillingness to do anything about it prevailed.

Around the same time, UN-Habitat and NDMA had a two-day "National Conference on Learning from Disasters" in Islamabad, where it was repeatedly mentioned that one of the major reasons behind such high casualties and widespread destruction had been a lack of planning. Pakistan had already gone through a multitude of natural disasters in the past few years that had left the entire nation vulnerable and in need of focused attention.

"Proper planning was unanimously advocated in the implementation of building codes, seismically safe construction practices, urban and rural planning, environmental consideration and capacity building," the conference document stated adding that, "many observations were made on the hindrance caused by bad practices."

Lack of proper land usage, planning and development were contributors to the disastrous effects in most areas in 2010 and they remain unchanged in 2022

A primary concern of all experts attending the conference was a lack of preparedness at government, institutional, organisational, and community levels that perhaps made the effects of the disasters so widespread and calamitous. Practical recommendations were afoot to help Pakistan in becoming more disaster resilient in the future.

Clearly that was not carried out as expected. Policy failures, in actuality.

Weak governance affects and consequently shifts the implementation of proposed policies, rendering any sustainable rehabilitative efforts useless or incomplete. Lack of proper land usage, planning and development were other contributors to the disastrous effects in most areas then and even now. As the conference document underlined that a lack of even distribution of powers left many local governments unable to make or implement decisions during critical times.

Same thing is happening this time too. There are more lessons to be learned from the current 2022 flood disasters but will those make Pakistan more resilient towards future natural as well as man-made disasters is yet to be seen. However, the high level Pakistani delegation attending the U.N. General Assembly session has been propagating that the country is a victim of the horrendous global climate crisis. In the backdrop is also the narrative being pushed out that Pakistan has done nothing in contributing to this climate crisis at all that the country is facing right now.

That's partly correct, or perhaps only in terms of Pakistan being one of the lowest emitters. But the Pakistani authorities can not just look away from the fact that the current disaster was mostly their own doing too since there has been a continued lack of readiness, accountability, as well as absence of policy implementation, even distribution, governance and political will to change the course.

Pakistan has done nothing, if one takes that as an argument, but then that doing nothing at all for many years has hugely contributed to the current flood disasters.