Floods up North


Are we destined to be unprepared for floods?

Up North the floods have already started. As monsoon rain and melting glaciers come together, the river begins to overflow from Pakistan’s Northern regions. If a strong flood warning system was in place, the Southern regions of the Indus River Basin should have been informed that floods are underway; but for those aware that the creation of the National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities was an eyewash, only for them to be scaled down as soon as donor funding went out, would know that no such flood warning system is in place. So as torrential rains lash Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Azad Jamma Kashmir (AJK), the southern dwellers can only hope and pray that they shall be safe.

Of course this is not to say that this is a justified thing to do. After massive floods in 2010 and 2011, both of which started in the North, there should have been a permanent flood monitoring and relief system in place. The fact that the Commissioner Peshawar is supervising the flood relief operations suggests no such work has been done. Immediate response appears to be the government’s response, despite a detailed Flood Inquiry Commission Report for the 2010 floods that pinned the blame and identified some ways to move forward. At least 13 people have died as local drains have flooded in Peshawar, Chitral, Charsaddah, Nowshera and AJK. Houses have been submerged as the venerable populations are being moved up. This is also a test for the new Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)-led KP government and its newly created Rescue 1122 service.

For the broader purpose of Pakistan, the flood warning has been raised this time around. This should mean that the provincial governments, disaster management departments and the met office sit down and discuss the possibilities of a downstream flood. Whatever conclusion is reached should be made public and preparations should be made keeping such in mind. While the floods are not yet predicted to reach the levels of 2010 and 2011, it must be remembered that this is the same Indus River System, with an increased level of siltation and barely any additional embankments that could save residential populations in case of any overflow. The Irrigation Departments of each province remain some of the most mismanaged, and that is despite record flooding only two monsoons ago. Will the provincial governments respond to the flood warning up North and make necessary preparations to deal with any possible emergency? Or will they ignore the flood warning? If they ignore, it will be to their own peril and more to the peril of the people who live downstream. In the meanwhile, an emergency relief plan must be chalked out at a federal level for those affected in KP and AJK.