Pakistan Floods: A Warning Bell for Future By Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi (Retd)

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Introduction

Pakistan is practically drowning in a deluge due to highest rainfall in last three decades. Pakistan has received 60% of total normal monsoon rainfall in just three weeks since the start of the monsoon season. Heavy rains have resulted in inundation in urban areas, flash floods, landslides, and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) across Pakistan, particularly affecting Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh Provinces. This shows that about 1/3 of Pakistan is affected by floods. Sixty-six districts have officially बीन declared to be ‘calamity hit’ by the Government of Pakistan – 31 in Balochistan, 23 in Sindh, nine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and three in Punjab. Another 50 districts have been declared affected. The NDMA of Pakistan, Pak Army and Pak Navy are doing the relief work.

Extent of Damage

So far over 1100 people have died, more than 30 million affected,184,000 moved to relief camps. As per official statement over 8,00,000 cattle heads have been lost due to rains and floods. There has been extensive damage to the infrastructure entailing washing away of more than 3000 kms of roads and damage to 130 bridges. According to the NDMA of Pakistan, more than 1 million houses have either got damaged or destroyed. In addition, around 800 schools (600 in Balochistan alone) have been destroyed. The damage suffered by under construction Mohmand dam and headworks at different locations has added to the flood losses. As far as agricultural losses has been concerned, approximately 20 lakh acres of agricultural land has been destroyed. Sindh arguably has been the worst affected due to floods. The advisor to the CM of Sindh on agriculture has said that the heavy rains have destroyed cotton crop standing over 1.4 million acres, rice standing on 602,120 acres, dates on 101,379 acres and 50% of the sugar cane crop over an area of 729,582 acres. Also chilli and other crops have also been destroyed by the rain. At least 2 million tonnes of wheat stored at the government’s warehouses in Sindh have been spoiled due to rains and floods, threatening the country’s food security. This has resulted into a loss of Pak Rs109.347 bn.The destruction in the agriculture sector means that Pakistan will not only encounter a supply shortage for food but there would also be a seed crisis in the country.

Impact on Economy and Life

The total losses have been estimated to be worth $ 10 billion which is roughly 3% of the total GDP of Pakistan. Experts also believe Pakistan’s textile and sugar export could drop by $1 billion due to extensive damage to the standing crop.

The impact of floods has been substantial on the supply of essentials. The natural disaster comes at a time when the government is already faced with one of Asia’s highest inflation rates and is attempting to find ways and means to fast depleting foreign exchange reserves[1]. As a remedial measure, Pakistan has announced that she will allow duty-free imports of vegetables to curb a price hike in the domestic market because of the floods. The Pakistan Finance Minister, Jenab Miftah Ismail, in a recent statement has announced that Pakistan would even consider opening a temporary land route with India for the purpose. The International Monetary Fund meets later in near future and is expected to resume a $6 billion loan program. In an executive meeting at Washington DCon 29 Aug 2022, the IMF approved the 7th and 8th tranche of $1.17 billion for Pakistan.As confirmed by the  Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, it is part of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) programme, for the revival of Pakistan’s economy. 

An Causative Analysis

The Pak Administration has also sought help from international donors to deal with the intense climate event, which echoes warnings issued by scientists in the 2021 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  

Floods are caused due to a number of climatic and non-climatic processes. These flood-producing processes include intensity of precipitation, excessive snowmelt, in some cases damage to the river training works, state of river basin (flat or having undulations), the cross-section of the river (which changes due to silt accumulation from trapezoidal section to saucer section), condition of dams, dykes, and reservoir (state of repair and maintenance). Also, human encroachment into flood plains, and lack of ‘Flood Risk Reduction’ plan and the mitigation strategy are the contributory factors.  Historically, Indus River is constrained by embankments on both sides, which put a barrier between the river and its flood plains. Such embankments result into accumulation of water before reaching the river. Due to poor watershed management and encroachments disturbing routesof water reaching the wetland, resulting into draining of natural wetlands which has increased the probability of flooding. Change in flow regimes due to low flows in eastern rivers after the Indus Water Treaty and enhanced flood protection measures have attracted economic activities and settlements in the floodplains, in a country with an increasing population[2] and substantial poverty[3]. Vulnerability of such locations has increased due to a false sense of safety.

Flood management and protection problems are closely related to land use and water मैनेजमेंट and water shed management related issues. These include inadequate water management, poor maintenance of the infrastructure, negative environmental impacts and long term problems due to climate change. The standard measures for flood protection are usually divided by structural and non-structural measures.

Structural Measures-  are those related to physical provisions to reduce the risk of flooding. These include dams, dykes, storm surge barriers etc. Existence of enough storage to mitigate the impact of super floods is of paramount importance for flood protection. These reservoirs should be built both on-channel and off-channel to attenuate flood peaks. In historic 2010 floods, the Tarbela reservoir the peak discharge from 835,000 cusecs at inflow to 604,000 cusecs at the outflow. Similarly, Mangla reservoir on the Jhelum River reduced peak flow of 344,000 cusecs at inflow to 225,000 cusecs at the outflow. These two reservoirs played a critical role in lowering the flood peaks at Jinnah and Punjnad Barrages downstream.The present reservoir capacity of Pakistan (live storage) corresponds to 9% of the Indus River System’s ( IRS) average annual flow and that is far lower than world average of 40% and many water stressed countries of the region (India 33%; Nile basin 347% and Colorado basin 497%). Pakistan’s current water storage capacity is 22.8 bcm. It is estimated that storage capacity of Pakistan reservoirs will be reduced by 57% by the year 2025 due to vintage of the infrastructure and their silting.  The recent estimates suggest that to meet the future water requirements, 22 bcm more water will be needed by 2025 (World Bank, 2008). This will need to at least double the existing storages. In the past few years, the government is emphasizing more and more on the construction of small dams to provide irrigation facilities to small-scale irrigation schemes. The envisaged small dams will have a storage capacity of about 1850 cubic meters, which is good to meet the requirements of small scale irrigation and meet domestic water requirements. While building storage Indus Basin the planners need to take into account that Indus and its tributaries bring lots of silt with them and it would be much easier to desilt smaller dams/ reservoirs rather than bigger dams/ reservoirs.  Also repair and maintenance is much easier in smaller reservoirs. A related issue is better management of the watershed to ensure that the water gets channelised into the reservoir. However, wherever necessary and space permits large dams should continue to be considered as they are economical in longer terms and also necessary for sustained growth. Pakistan is extraordinarily dependent on its water infrastructure. However, due to ageing they all are in crying need of repair and maintenance. The current floods and the extensive damage that has happened to existing infrastructure bears testimony to this neglect. A perusal of the budget for repair and maintenance brings out that only  5-10% of the actual amount required is earmarked for this important activity. Unfortunately, WAPDA and IRSA responsible for repair/ maintenance/ construction of water infrastructure are mired in corruption and that is why even that meagre allocation does not optimally utilised. 

Non-structural measures–  These measures are related to flood forecasting, flood warning, flood intensity mapping, emergency evacuation plans etc. Although Pakistan claims that Pak Meteorological Department which works on Satellite-based forecasting system and National Disaster Management Authority is well up on technology, but based on reports in the media,  it can safely be assumed that neither flood forecasting and flood warning systems had worked optimally nor relief and rescue organisations were geared up to deal with the extent and fury of the flood. This is despite Pakistan having suffered due to floods in 2010, 2011. Needless to add that these systems/ procedures need major improvement/ upgradation/ extension. The systems may entail infusion of technology (weather RADARS) and related capacity building. Restoration of wetlands for flood retentions should be given a serious consideration.  and room for rivers to meander (River Plains) should be given serious consideration. Loss of vegetation and changing previous natural surfaces to less pervious or impervious artificial surfaces leads to an increased storm water runoffs and can result in an increased probability of a flash flood. The trend of deforestation needs to be reversed but plantation should be such that it helps in arresting the free flow of flood waters and its absorption by the soil. Due to the exponential rise in the population, the catchment areas are shrinking. Unplanned habitation growth,  encroachment of the flood plains and damage to watershed indeed contribute to floods.  Therefore these need to be checked carefully.

Capacity to handle Disaster– Pakistan is one of the signatories of the ‘UN Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. At the core of the HFA lies the integration of risk reduction as an essential component of national development policies and programs. However, The response to current floods clearly brings out that Pakistan is ill-prepared to deal with disaster of this proportion. In fact after having borne the brunt of the floods of 2010 and 2011, the standard operating procedure (SOP) should have been in place but what is being noticed is a highly disjointed response. Pakistan needs to appreciate that with the ongoing climate change such intense and untimely floods or draughts would be a regular occurrence hereafter. Pakistan needs to develop plans for various contingencies, which should include a robust early warning system and ways and means to go for international cooperation to tackle such unfortunate happenings. These plans should include a likely ‘FloodIntensity Map’, prepositioning of equipment& stores for the relief operations and arrangements for providing food/ fodder & water and arrangements for medical support systems. The SOP should also include a well laid ‘Immediate Response System’ and a mitigation plan for the ‘Disaster Risk reduction’.

Impact of Climate Change– Monsoon rainfalls are the main source of floods in the basin. High flows are experienced in summer due to the increased rate of water flow due to accretion of water due to melting of snow and monsoon rains. The nature of flooding varies according to geography. Fluvial floods in the Indus plain prove most devastating, as the terrain is flat, densely populated and economically developed. Hill torrents (flash floods) are the second most destructive type of flood. Climate changes are expected to result into increased variability of monsoon and winter rains and glacier melting which can increase the quantum of rainfall and also pattern of the rainfall. These changes will result into far more severe floods in future. Another factor in flash floods is that the extended summers result into more evaporation, making the clouds heavier and unable to cross the water shed. As a consequence they hit the crust and release the moisture.Here it needs to be noted that two factors are accelerating climate change. These entail excessive deforestation and use of coal to generate power. Here it also needs to be appreciated that such climate changes are not only impacting Pakistan but also neighbouring countries.

What Needs to be Done? Pakistan needs to work on both structural and non-structural measures for protection against floods and for that matter any kind of natural or manmade disasters. One of the most important step that Pakistan needs to take is to enhance its water storage capacity to mitigate the effects of super floods. Such a step will also provide inherent guarantee against draught. In this connection, it needs to be noted that the role of reservoirs at Tarbela and Mangla in reducing peaks of floods during 2010 had been enormous. Although, lots of contrarian views exist but rejuvenation of village ponds and check dams in mountains will help in not only enhancing the storage capacity but will also help in improving the water table in the rural areas. Making embankments along the Indus river and other rivers may be reviewed because unencroached flood plains play an important role in absorbing the fury of floods. In addition to these measures, early warning system for flood forecasting needs improvement. Drainage system in urban areas and rejuvenation of wetlands need to be given due thought. As a part of mitigation strategy for disaster risk reduction, afforestation and finding alternative of coal to meet the energy needs be put in place. It also needs to be noted that a disaster calls for a detailed planning of relief and rescue operations. Not only these measures be planned but should also be practised. One of the most important phase in any relief operation is post flood actions, because as water recedes, water borne diseases, restoration of water and electrical supply, removal of stagnant water and repair and maintenance of roads assume great importance. All these activities call for a inter departmental coordination/ collaboration/ cooperation. The SOP should cater for an adhoc organisation which should be invoked on notification of the flood.

Lessons for India

The Climate Change is having equally damaging impact on India, this year’s floods in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Certain areas of Uttar Pradesh and Assam call for a review of the systems and procedures to deal with the natural calamity of floods. The devastating floods in Pakistan are giving many useful lessons for India. Although, India’s the Disaster Management programme and related organisations are now well established and even weather forecasting system of India is technology driven and is reasonably accurate, but certain structural areas need improvement. The storage capacity in India is also quite limited. As per data available, India has a storage capacity of 257 billion cubic metres (BCM) which can be extended to 385 BCM in near future. However it is also true that almost 92% of the rain water goes waste (which also causes floods). Therefore there is a need to enhance the storage capacity. The recent move of rejuvenation/ creation of 75 Amrit Sarovar in every district of India as part of Mission Amrit Sarovar is a step in right direction. Also there is a need to rejuvenate non glacial rivers to store rain water. This activity needs to be given due thought. Freeing river plains from encroachments and desilting of all rivers and reservoirs should be the priority. One of the problems in urban areas as well as along the roads is poor drainage system. As a part of the SOP before onset of monsoon the drains are repaired and cleaned. Planned afforestation should be made a community exercise so that survival of plants is ensured.  Mitigation strategy as a part of disaster risk reduction should be an exercise which needs to done during non-monsoon season so that the govt and the society is better prepared to deal with floods. Efforts to reduce the impact of climate change needs to be redoubled. In this connection international cooperation with neighbouring countries should be done in a planned manner. In this connection exchange of water data is extremely important to avoid Parechu[4] kind of situations. Post flood actions and connected availability of stores/ equipment/ medical support are some of the areas which need to be improved. For example  disposal of stagnant water in Patna few years back became a major issue. A lower/ middle riparian state like India needs to have arrangements with upper riparian states of China, Nepal and Bhutan for collaboration/ cooperation/ coordination for EW system and exchange of water related data and with Bangladesh sharing of data for forecasting.

Author – Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi, AVSM, VSM (Retd)  is a retired Indian Army General Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, NE, Andman Nikobar on various appointments at Command and Army HQs. . He is Vice Chairman of Think Tank, “STRIVE”,  after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals, and think tanks.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the STRIVE.

References:-

[1]The foreign exchange holding of Pakistan, as on 05 Aug 2022 was $13.561 billion. Incidentally, it went down from $14.209 billion on 29 Jul 2022. In the first five weeks of the current fiscal, the foreign exchange reserves have gone down by $ 2 billion due to debt servicing.

[2]Pakistan’s population in 1950 was 37,696,264 and it has risen to 235,824,862 in 2022. (Ref: https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/PAK/pakistan/population-growth-rate)

[3]Using the lower-middle-income poverty rate, the WB estimated that the poverty ratio in Pakistan stood at 39.3 per cent in 2020-21and is projected to remain at 39.2 per cent in 2021-22 (Ref: An ANI Report, “Poverty in Pakistan rises to over 5% in 2020, estimates World Bank”, pub in Business Standard, dated 22 June 2021 and uploaded on https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/poverty-in-pakistan-rises-to-over-5-in-2020-estimates-world-bank-121062200084_1.html)

[4]In the beginning of August 2004, 35 kilometres from the Himachal Pradesh border, a huge artificial lake began to be formed on Parechu, a tributary of Sutlej river in Tibet, China. The lake formation (called Karak lake by the Chinese) of about 230 hectares, according to the Chinese, was caused due to the blockage of the river by a sudden landslide at an inaccessible and high-altitude site. Unlike the devastating flash floods of a similar nature in the year 2000 in Kinnaur which came without any warning from China, this time early warning was provided on time by the Chinese. Mercifully the lake did not burst. It was visualised that if the fast swelling lake had burst a surge of water wall could have caused havoc. The period August to October 2004 was the worst time for the downstream dwellers who had to be evacuated from close to the river as a precautionary step to prevent disaster. (compilation is based on a report  by IPCS: refer End Note 10.

End Notes:

  1. An internet Upload: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-08-29/floods-ravage-pakistan-passing-1-000-dead-10-billion-in-damage.
  2. Tahir Siddiqui, “Floods inflict $10 Billion Losses Across Pakistan, pub in DAWN dated 30 Aug 2022 and uploaded on https://www.dawn.com/news/1707495/floods-inflict-10bn-losses-across-pakistan.
  3. An IANS Report, “Pakistan flood damage estimated at $5.5 billion, says local media”, pub in The Business standard dated 28 Aug 2022 and uploaded on https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/pakistan-flood-damage-estimated-at-5-5-billion-says-local-media-122082800355_1.html
  4. An internet upload: https://reliefweb.int/disaster/fl-2022-000254-pak
  5. Dr Asad Sarwar Qureshi, “Managing Floods In Pakistan: From Structural To Non- Structural Measures”, presented during Symposium On “Emerging Phenomenon Of Untimely Rains / Floods – 2011 In Pakistan” and uploaded on https://pecongress.org.pk/images/upload/books/107-114-302%20Managing%20flod%20Asad%20Sarwar%20Qureshi.pdf
  6. Pakistan: National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy, Pub in Aug 2013 and uploaded on https://www.preventionweb.net/publication/pakistan-national-disaster-risk-reduction-policy
  7. A Pakistan NDMA presentation, presented by Idrees Mahsud, “Early Warning & DRM System of Pakistan- Learning  from Good Practices”,  presented at South Asia Hyderomet Forum, An internet upload: http://wci.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp/events/awcs2016/presen/3-1-7.pdfP
  8. J Harsha, “Live Storage Capacity Estimates for Indian Dams Based on Outdated Data” pub in Science Wire dated 02 Feb 2021 and uploaded on https://science.thewire.in/environment/india-dying-dams-failing-reservoirs/
  9. Mission Amrit Sarovar, an internet upload: https://water.ncog.gov.in/AmritSarovar/login
  10. Col PK Gautam, “The Parechu Lake Incident: A Preliminary Analysis”, pub by IPCS dated 30 Nov 2004 and up loaded on http://www.ipcs.org/comm_select.php?articleNo=1569
  11. An ANI Report, “Pakistan Forex Reserves decline by over US $ 2 billion”, pub by The Print dated 13 Aug 2022 and uploaded on https://theprint.in/world/pakistan-forex-reserves-decline-by-over-usd-2-bln/1080728/
  12. A PTI Report, “International Monetary Fund revives Pakistan’s EFF programme; approves $1.17bn bailout fund”, pub in The Hindu, dated 30 Aug 2022 and uploaded on https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/international-monetary-fund-revives-pakistans-eff-programme-approves-117bn-bailout-fund/article65829164.ece

2 thoughts on “Pakistan Floods: A Warning Bell for Future By Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi (Retd)

  • September 3, 2022 at 5:17 pm
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    Extensive studies on floods in Pakistan by Maj. Gen. CHATURVEDI have also cautioned India on this front.
    Thanks for significant contributions.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2022 at 10:05 am
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    A very comprehensive analysis of the issues involved in flood prevention and management. Relevant to both India and Pakistan. Taming and training of rivers by making more dams, though expensive, can be a possible remedy. This has other long term economic benefits.

    Reply

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