With the start of the summer, worries surround the people who live in riverine areas. The pricking thing on their mind is floods. In Pakistan, Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa often make news because of devastating flooding. Recently, I met a family of Muzaffargarh which had come to Karachi around six months ago after the Indus River devastated their village in Muzaffargarh district last August.
The family had a painful story to share. They said they had lost their possessions: a cow, a cow, a mud house, two acres crop, households. All the things were swept in flooding when the family was away at work. Luckily, no human loss occurred. The flooding left them under a huge debt.
In such hard times, politicians see the families in troubles as easy prey. Several politicians came to help them. The handouts, however, did not build their lives. The government officials also did put in small cash to displaced families, but that wasn’t enough. This is not the first time, the family came under flooding. Since the village is close to the banks of the Indus, so it is vulnerable to floods. They have no other option, but to keep on living in their native land of the watery grave. They have nowhere to go to as suggested by the district administration through announcements ahead of floods.
This Muzaffargarh family is one of the thousands of families who suffer losses at the hands of flooding and the World Bank puts Pakistan’s flood-related losses in excess of $18bn because of natural disasters in the last one decade. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has reported that more than 2.5 million villagers were displaced or affected, mostly in Punjab, due to last year’s flood in the Chenab and Sutlej rivers alone. The tally of the Indus River is even bigger. Up to 367 people drowned, crops were washed away over one million acres, and 130,000 houses were damaged.
Other than villages and farm, small non-farm enterprises and manufacturing and processing businesses also suffered losses which mean several thousands of people lost their jobs. Flooding is a matter of weeks as floodwater recedes quickly leaving behind the trails of losses. The NDMA says the recovery cost needed around $439 million. That is not a small amount. No proper survey or flood losses assessment exercises are undertaken by the government.
A large number of the population displaced by the super floods of 2010 has yet to be rehabilitated as thousands of them are still without shelter and jobs, and some have shifted to the cities to find livelihoods. Floods bring in long-term food insecurity for the country besides increasing poverty, disrupting supply chains, pushing prices and eliminate jobs. The World Resources Institute (WRI) says Pakistan falls 5th on the list of top 15 countries that account for 80pc of the population exposed to river-flood risk worldwide. It estimates that just a little less than 1pc of Pakistan’s GDP is exposed to river floods every year. It is ranked 16th by the WRI on the list of the top 20 countries with the highest GDP exposure to river floods.
Coming back to the World Bank report – Fiscal Disaster Risk Options for Pakistan – estimates that Pakistan suffered economic losses in excess of $18bn because of natural disasters in the last one decade since the massive earthquake hit KP and Azad Kashmir in 2005, one can say that floods are a permanent threat to Pakistani economy. The 2010 floods left the losses of $10bn. The report states: “Pakistan faces a major financing challenge arising from natural catastrophes, with flooding causing an estimated annual economic impact of between three and four per cent of the federal budget,” adds the report. It estimates the annual economic impact of flooding at between $1.2bn and $1.8bn, or 0.5-0.8pc of GDP”.
Under these circumstances, the best option with Pakistan is to work on the environment and safety measures for the populace living around the riverside.