Sep 1, 2010

When waters recede

Our recipe to recovery is tied to the wisdom that we may apply in managing our waters

By Dr Noman Ahmed

All the government institutions and people are busy grappling with immediate problems of rescue and relief of flood affectees. The chain effect of recurring rainfall and flash floods in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP), ongoing floodings along terrains of the Punjab and weird handling of inundation in Sindh and Balochistan have made matters complex and difficult to handle.

The tougher challenges of rehabilitation and re-settlement lie ahead. It shall require political foresight and administrative acumen of the highest order to chalk out strategies that are acceptable to all stakeholders and affectees.

Features of sustainability and practicality of solutions shall always rank high among the deciding parameters. During the recent meeting of Prime Minster Yousaf Raza Gilani and Mian Nawaz Sharif, an agreement had been reached to develop an independent commission to oversee fund-raising, its management and distribution. Whereas this move is commendable, there are many matters that deem attention of government and allied stakeholders.

It goes without saying that a comprehensive analysis of current flooding saga must be carried out without delay. Long-standing reasons behind floods; range of different patterns of flooding; causes for the hindrances in reaching out to marooned population; sites and buildings that were able to withstand floods; location relevance of high value installations such as oil refineries and power plants and the performance of transportation networks are some of the key factors.

Where flood warnings were timely and accurate, the response of people was very good. However improper access to paths of evacuation led to loss of life and property of unparallel scale. Unless correct lessons are derived and acted upon, sad repetitions of the same episodes shall continue to arise.

While moving towards rehabilitation and re-construction, a precise and accurate diary of damages to life, property and assets must be prepared. Given the absence of authenticity of claims, a dispute resolution mechanism must be instituted within this framework. Alongside, the damage and destruction assessment of inter-district, provincial and national infrastructure should be done. A multi-layered planning framework must be put in place to deal with the corresponding levels of damages and losses at each tier of input.

Thus, plans at the national, regional, provincial, district, tehsil/taluka and ward levels need to be made to provide scientific premise for absorbing the investments in the domain of rebuilding and re-construction. Ad hoc, whimsical, and politically motivated decisions related to spot projects must be swapped with rational planning and decision making initiatives.

Land, its utilization, and distribution for various purposes make the foremost point for focused investigation and analysis. Successive regimes have distributed land in the flood prone locations to political favorites. Additionally, rampant encroachments and unauthorised occupation of flood impacted lands has caused localised damages due to unprecedented changes in flood paths.

Construction of local and national infrastructure with 'flood insensitive' designs has not only damaged the said infrastructure but also the adjoining areas. And large scale deforestation at different terrains has caused an overwhelming destruction. Only recently, a provincial chief minister had issued orders of clearing local forests to make way for crop lands. Such suicidal policies must be done away with, once for all.

Floods will reappear in times to come. A logical approach to deal with them is to re-direct their water where the territorial and technical possibilities of storage can be worked out. Pakistan is a vast country with more than 796000 km2 of territory.

A sizable part of this vast land is barren. If a workable flood diversion planning is under taken, a sizable volume of these destructive waters can turned into a useful resource for dry seasons and in dry belts. But this will require political consensus of stable footings, transparency in decision-making, and trust worthy technical competence to formulate alternatives.

Consolidation and periodic repair of existing water infrastructure, planning and development of new flood canals and diversion works, preparation of need-based water threshold plan and utilisation of information technology tools for flood warning are some priorities that deem appropriate response from the government.

Our recipe to recovery and subsequent prosperity is tied to the wisdom that we may apply in managing our waters and allied resources. With the right water in the right canals and vessels, many a conflicts will die their own death.

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