‘Establishment of settlements at unsuitable places aggravated flood disaster’

Speakers at a seminar on Wednesday highlighted the cause of the recent flood disaster in the country, especially Sindh that had been hit the most, challenges being faced by the victims and their rehabilitation.

Addressing the event via video link from Tharparkar, Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Taj Haider said the nature of recent floods triggered by unprecedented rainfall was different from that of the 2010 floods because the latter were caused by the swollen River Indus.

He pointed out that natural waterways were strewn with obstacles that hindered water flow into the river and caused flooding. “Unless the fundamental cause is addressed, these issues will continue rearing their ugly heads during rainfall or flooding in the river,” he said, adding that aid being provided to the flood victims was a temporary relief, and long-term plans were required to revive their livelihoods.

The senator said NGOs and individuals had come forward to provide food and relief goods to the affected people but efforts were also needed to protect them from diseases like malaria and diarrhoea. He added that there were fears regarding the outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease.

The costs of relief goods had gone up due to the rising inflation, Haider said. “A rations bag that can sustain a family for seven to eight days costs up to Rs4,300,” he added. Prof Noman Ahmed, the dean of the department of architecture and planning at the NED University of Engineering and Technology, said the climate-induced flooding being witnessed in the country was unprecedented. For a long time, climate experts had been cautioning about the changing weather patterns and as per an earlier estimate, Pakistan ranked seventh in the 10 countries that were most affected by climate change globally, but it had now climbed two spots to the fifth most vulnerable country, he explained.

He said the overall duration of rainfall had increased as the rains this time lasted longer than usual, and weather experts had predicted that this trend would aggravate further. Secondly, he added, the intensity of the rains has increased as they shattered many previous records as per the baseline data of the weather department.

The academic explained that the rainfall itself did not endanger human lives but the establishment of human settlements at unsuitable places coupled with the intensity of rains and other factors had caused the devastation.

Every region had natural ways for the disposal of rainwater and Pakistan had its own north-to-south water flow system, he said, adding that rivers changed their course and widened. Referring to the videos of the flooded Swat River sweeping away hotels and resorts like toys, he said it all happened because those hotels were built inside the river bed.

He said his classmate, who was an architect and lived in Swat, had been warning the local people against building structures in the river bed for the past 25 years but they laughed off his warnings.

Prof Ahmed lamented that development projects had been carried out over the past many decades without a proper strategy and taking care of natural waterways and topography, due to which roads and other infrastructure had been damaged by the recent floods.

He said the response to a disaster had four stages. “The first stage is to rescue marooned people, livestock and their assets in order to mitigate the magnitude of loss and second is provision of immediate relief to them,” he said.

“The third stage is rehabilitation which is an important one because one has to survey the affected areas to see whether they cannot be utilised or where intervention was needed to make them useable. The fourth phase is the redevelopment where we often make haste. However it needs more rethinking as all factors need to be taken into account so as to avoid a repeat of disaster.” Prof Ahmed also regretted lack of local bodies saying the upper two tiers of the government were visible but the lower local government tier was conspicuous by its absence.

Published in The News 08 Sep 2022

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