Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pakistan’s Floods 2010: Historical Background and Current Challenges.

 Pakistan’s Floods 2010: Historical Background and Current Challenges

DR.Meher Zaidi.

In August 2010, as Pakistan reels under the devastating flood of depair and catastrophy of Biblical proportions, there are some real questions that need to be answered and some urgent trials that will eventually have to be put in place both for the administration and to the people in a socio-moral perspective.

In 2006, the World Bank  Report on Pakistan’s Water Economy (Oxford) emphasized the creation & training of a new generation of multidisciplinary water resources specialists and promised the stimulation of “ centers of excellence” for water resources sciences. It concluded  that over the recent decades the capacity for modern resource management has not evolved rapidly enough to meet the emerging challenges.
As I watched the interview of Mr. Nizamani, director, Sindh Irrigation Authority (SIDA)  to Sindh television anchor while sitting on Kotri barrage with a piece of paper in his well fed pudgy  hands , on the very, very ample girthed-belly, saying that Inshallah Kotri barrage will see this flood pass and nothing will happen, I was thinking about the plans to train the new generation of multidisciplinary water scientists as envisaged in their report.
In Thul thousands are trapped with sudden inundation of their area and even cutting of gas supplies. How will they cook or even boil the unpotable water that is flooding with the cattle dead in the water. There are thousands of pesticide bags, many of them even expired (My husband had done a study in 1997 which showed 1000 tons of expired pesticides over Sindh and Punjab of which 300 tons were sent for disposal to Germany).The elected representative Dr. Shoaib Sarki has given a few rusks to a very few people gathered in a small piece of land that was not submerged when they were telling them their difficulties Another man even said something about him giving him a hundred rupee note to get something for himself.. So much for the relief with food supplies. This was shown on Mehran television. The residents of Thul do not want to leave now. They just want their gas restored and they want some food and medical relief. They appear very angry with the elected representatives leaving them in times of dire need.
On another channel, the KTN news network there were live call in from various people including a PPP MPA, complaining how some influential parliamentarians and feudals  had tempered with the dykes and bunds and saved their own  lands and inundated very large areas of other people. This is a widespread complain now. By August 9th this was only starting. The Mounder town with 10,000 residents had to be emergency evacuated by the army because five private bund breaches were made there without warning to the residents.
All over Sindh people are sitting helplessly on bunds or the little available high ground, without shelter or relief. The government agencies and infrastructure as it is dilapidated, corrupt and weak, seem overwhelmed. The lack of local bodies and any community based organization at the village level is reflective in the disorganized and helpless plight of millions of people in Sindh. These people who were living off the land, farming, cattle herding and sustaining their poor livelihoods are suddenly ravaged with the floods. The question now arising is that was this scale of flooding envisaged in Pakistan or Sindh? Was there a flood disaster management plan? What did we actually do to prevent or contain such a catastrophe? What ugly truths have been laid bare by this enormous calamity?
From the perspective of a citizen, I did try to study the few documents available on the net  and some books and reports, out of which some things I will share with the reader.
The World Bank did emphasize the fact that “ in service delivery the state water institutions have not made the transition from the era of development & construction to the era where management of resources and services is the primary challenge”. This has become so obvious in what has really happened in Sindh. Here the primary layering and repair of water channels has not happened. The transparency and fairness in water allocation has resulted in “illegal” bunds and dykes which the feudal landlord has without coordination and warning with the authorities, broken to let the ravaging waters loose on the hapless other neighbors. The decentralization of irrigation management along modern management lines has not occurred at all. The corrupt practices of the irrigation department has added to the disaster impact.

 In a country like Pakistan wherethe World Bank says “ the Indus plain offers the most complex challenges in water management”, the priority and the resolve of the Pakistan’s military & political forces to manage this complex challenge is evident from the fact that less than ----amount of the development budget is spent on the priority of improving the infrastructure like the repair of dams and barrages, cementing of the water courses etc. In its report it says that “Pakistan has a large endowment(with an estimated replacement value of US$ 60-70 billion) of water resources infrastructure, most owned and managed by the provinces , and much of it is quite old. As described in this report, the condition of this stock  of infrastructure is a major cause of concern. In some instances- such as Taunsa and Sukkur barrages, the precarious state of major structures puts the well being of tens of millions of people at risk”.
It identified the increase in water lending to Pakistan from 2000-04 to about US$ 1 billion. The Sindh Water /Irrigation Sector Improvement Program (US$ 140 million) was to improve water productivity through a reform agenda/ investments leading to a better management system that would link canal command areas, the distributary, and the water course level. Components included were; capacity building; civil works, agriculture & irrigation technology; and management and & administration.
As always discretion and lack of accountability are handmaidens to corruption. As seen in this report the facts are evident as to what really happened in the implementation of the civil works  and improvement of management program.

Mr Nawaz Sharif in his utter niavette is opposing the Flood Disaster Relief Commission, to which the prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has responded with the word “Council”. The fact is that ;
Federal Flood Commission (FFC) was established in 1977 to provide the necessary infrastructure at the federal level to help
the provinces in meeting the technical and financial resources required to carry out the Flood Mitigation Measures.
The lack of transparency and non-merit appointments of the irrigation department especially in the Sindh province where such a large network of waterways is spread to provide livelihood to such a large population and where the major dams and barrages are structurally in very old and poor state is beyond imaginable and sane comprehension. The ingrained culture of corruption, nepotism, sycophancy and feudal mentality is so obvious now that the way the floods were or are being managed in the whole of Sindh. It is a shame and a time of deep introspection for all of us that claim to love and live of this beautiful tolerant land, that gives us so much. Who will answer this? Can we truly blame the new government? No, not really, as the Sindhi nationalists are vocalizing. What have they really done to fight off corruption and nepotism. What have they done to envisage  any disaster and prepare the local communities to mitigate its effects. Just by racist remarks and violent expressions of hatred the pain and miseries of the folks cannot be removed. The sheer lack of any food, medical relief to the people who are being affected shows the apathetic communal cushion of support to the average resident.

The people of rural areas that have been badly damaged in Sindh are complaining that their standing crops, entire villages are inundated at the expense of the larger towns. This has a background.

 This mainly happened because the provincial relief organization as part of the plan was almost non-existent.
Provincial relief organizations were envisaged with the responsibility of disaster preparedness, emergency response, and post disaster activities
including floods. Flood preparatory actions required to be taken by the relief Commissioner included
(i) Arranging inspection of the flood protection.
(ii) To establish flood warning center and the flood centers at the district and Tehsil levels.

There  is a very large population in Kacha areas and along bunds which have established residential villages and were not included in the earlier disaster relief map. (As such there is no mapping along modern GIS lines in any part of Pakistan including very populous Karachi, where cantonment including Defence , civilian, residential areas are secret to GIS mapping)

 As I studied the disaster mitigation plan document the following facts were seen:
The FFC prepared the National Flood Protection Plan 1978 (NFPP-1978), that comprised of a viable future flood protection plan.
The main thrusts were:
a) To reduce the flood losses
b) To give priorities to flood protection to the areas of greatest economic risk
c) To provide protection from flood damages to areas out side flood plains i.e. cities & vital infrastructure installations.
d) Improvements in existing flood protection/flood control facilities.

The other background is as follows:
Pakistan faced much damage from floods in 1973 after which the federal government decided to strengthen all mechanisms of flood warning system and also initiate a flood disaster response system.
The army is playing a vital role in rescue and relief of the flood affectees. It was given a role in the 1977 plan which it has fulfilled with diligence and utmost valor. Its flood related function encompasses all the three phases of flood operations from the pre-flood to post flood.

 After reading the documents available and seeing the real time damage and evolution of the current flood disaster I have reached the following few conclusions:
-That there is a need to devolve the disaster management plan to the lower community level, including the revival of the local government right now without elections so that some structure is in place for relief and later rehabilitation.
-That there is an urgent need to complete overhaul and restructuring of the technical and manpower human resource of the irrigation department.
-There is urgent need of capacity building & training of existing staff in modern management practices.
-There is urgent need of reforms and restructuring of the water distribution and resources such as water rights etc.
-There is urgent need to develop political consensus on all water issues in order to early development of new infrastructure.
-Last but not the least there is a need for accountability, transparency and merit in appointments of all manpower in water and irrigation departments.

In the end a few words about Mr. Zardari. As he was so defensive about his presidency in the news conference today with Mr. Kerry Lugar on being questioned by a foreign journalist and links it to the derailment of democracy and his contribution to the averting of civil war post Benazir’s killing, he needs to realize that his label as a corrupt person is now a dead weight on the government of Pakistan Peoples Party and the whole of the relief funding  effort in Pakistan and the world. The prime minister is the CEO and in his own words the government is of consensus. If he leaves the presidency and as the unanimously elected prime minister is favored by all so can a president be chosen. In no way the democratic government will be derailed. He needs to make a dignified exit. His expression of resolve and passion to build new villages in place of the ones inundated maybe sincere but a more viable and tenable is a social and political contract to remove corruption especially in all government departments in Sindh, bring about meritorious appointments of all staff  irrespective of ethnicity or religion, transparency in all public dealing and true accountability at all levels. May God give us all to bear the brunt of the devastation of floods in Pakistan with courage and hope.