Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir write a :
Pakistan is still rebuilding from massive floods that killed over 1,700 people and ruined over 2 million homes. Many communities are still submerged, and some people are surviving on the rooftops of their homes without water, food, or shelter. Stagnant water continues to wreak havoc on the stranded people in some of the worst impacted districts, such as Dadu. The floods inflicted $40 billion in economic damage and forced 1.8 million people to live in deplorable circumstances. Even in normal times, health facilities were negligible, with one doctor for 1,300 people and six beds per hospital for 10,000 people; however, this negligible infrastructure was destroyed by floods, leaving people with no choice or option to seek medical treatment for their health issues. Despite numerous pledges, promises, and claims, the country is unable to ease the suffering of millions of afflicted people; flood-damaged homes have yet to be repaired or rebuilt; clean drinking water is still unavailable; and lost infrastructure cannot be replaced. While the country is still in recovery mode, the new monsoon season is rapidly approaching, with higher-than-average rains and flooding expected.
To our greatest fear, there are predictions that this monsoon, which is just around the corner, will have a 70% chance of flooding this year as well, and unfortunately, we lack the capacity to respond to these floods, and we will most likely subject the people who have yet to recover from the devastating flood of last year to another round of misery and devastation. Even now over 5 million people in the country are in the emergency phase of a food crisis, which is similar to the scenario in Somalia, which has 5.3 million people in this situation.
If we are not prepared yet again, those who were barely able to return to their homes will have to flee again, the crops and livestock, the lifeline of many villagers that somehow escaped from last year’s flood will be subjected to another devastation, depriving the affected rural population in most cases of the only livelihood they had and were capable of handling, pushing many people who were maintaining a decent living into poverty and those who were poor will be pushed further into poverty.
As we all know and have been telling the world, Pakistan is the hardest hit by climate change, despite the fact that its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is almost negligible, and we have been begging the international community to come to our aid as our population suffers every year from climate change-induced floods and the diseases, hunger, malnutrition, and loss of livelihood that result.
But the international community has a right to ask what happened to the aid that was previously given to the country and was mercilessly looted by those who have already amassed a lot of wealth but their greed and hunger want even more, depriving the people of their only lifeline. In fact, it is in the greatest national interest to safeguard the people of the country from hunger, to provide every kid with an education, to provide everyone with health care when needed, to secure their lives and livelihoods, and to provide them with a place to live.
We are a short-sighted nation with no taste for rigorous planning and execution because disaster preparedness, which directly affects millions of people and indirectly affects the entire nation socially, economically, and monetarily, is not our priority or significant to us. What is important to us has been made abundantly clear by the events of the last few days: we are only concerned with settling personal scores, destroying and annihilating each other, political parties foment vandalism of national assets that belonged to the people of this country, and then the government is forced to rebuild them using scarce economic resources generated by the people through their sweat and blood. Unfortunately, our national interests are served by doing anything but investing in our people, which is critical for ensuring the productivity and quality of our products and services, safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and dignity, as well as the economic and social well-being of the masses.
Although, as with every year, we have lost a lot of precious time this year, we still have some of it to save lives, alleviate suffering, protect critical infrastructure, maintain economic stability, foster social cohesion, and promote environmental conservation. To improve our people’s resilience and defend the well-being of our populations, we must prioritize catastrophe preparedness and response, as well as recovery. As swiftly as possible, we should gather all national intellect and resources to put in place strategies and plans to prepare the entire nation to fight the negative fallouts of potential monsoon flooding, as it is critical to human life preservation, proper disaster preparedness and response to alleviate the burden on affected communities and help them recover more quickly, but big question is how?.
An efficient and state of the art well connected early warning system can help to provide emergency response services to reduce the suffering caused by the floods and to provide immediate medical assistance, ensuring access to clean water, food, and shelter, and providing psychological support to those affected.
Population preservation strengthens social bonds and increases community resilience. When people feel protected and supported during a disaster, they are more likely to trust institutions and collaborate to overcome barriers. Building community resilience includes educating individuals about potential dangers, training them in emergency response methods, and encouraging cooperation and mutual help. Strong communities are better able to resist and recover from calamities, lowering society’s long-term burden. Setting up emergency funds, creating business continuity plans, and investing in strong infrastructure can all help to maintain economic stability and speed up recovery. We must undertake a social education campaign to reduce the impact of possible floods, crop and livestock losses caused by the onset of monsoon seasons by implementing mechanisms that provide timely and accurate information on weather patterns, rainfall forecasts, and potential flood hazards. This information can assist communities and authorities in taking the required safeguards ahead of time.
Educating farmers on climate-smart agricultural methods, such as crop diversification, contour plowing, terracing, and building bunds to reduce soil erosion and waterlogging, is critical to minimizing crop vulnerability to floods. Give livestock owners advice on how to protect their animals during floods, such as building higher shelters or relocating them to safer regions. Raising awareness about cattle evacuation and rescue procedures can help to reduce losses.
Conducting public awareness campaigns, workshops, and training sessions to improve community readiness and capacity for flood response by teaching target populations on disaster protocols, evacuation routes, and basic first aid practices. Establish a centralized communication system to communicate flood-related information and emergency alerts to strengthen cooperation between government departments, disaster management agencies, and local communities to promote efficient communication and quick reaction during flood disasters.
Another major concern is the protection of critical infrastructure, such as transportation networks, communication systems, electricity grids, and healthcare institutions, as long-term economic setbacks could result from infrastructure devastation, loss of livelihoods, and supply line disruption. Protecting populations means safeguarding these infrastructure components, which are fundamental to society’s operation. Infrastructure preservation not only allows for faster recovery, but also assures that key services are available during and after disasters. We must repair and maintain existing dams, embankments, flood routes, and reservoirs, as well as construct new ones. During the monsoon season, these structures can help manage water flow, reduce flood hazards, and provide water storage. Furthermore, existing drainage systems must be improved and new ones built in flood-prone areas to efficiently move surplus water away from agricultural lands, residential areas, and animal shelters, minimizing the risk of flooding.
Natural catastrophes can have devastating environmental consequences, destroying habitat, polluting the environment, and causing ecological imbalances. Protecting people includes activities to protect the environment and mitigate the environmental impact of disasters. This includes strategies such as long-term land use planning, early warning systems for environmental hazards, and the implementation of pollution-reduction and ecological restoration methods.
We also need to promote reforestation efforts and implement effective watershed management practices such as afforestation campaigns, tree planting, and sustainable land management practices that act as natural buffers against floods by absorbing and retaining water and reducing its flow downstream, in addition to implementing strict regulations for land use in flood-prone areas such as appropriate zoning policies, restricting construction in high-risk areas, and encouraging people to live in flood-prone areas. We must also implement measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change by transitioning to renewable energy sources, promoting energy efficiency, incorporating climate-resilient design principles into the construction and renovation of infrastructure which should include building structures that can withstand extreme weather events and incorporating green infrastructure elements and adopting sustainable practices across sectors.
We should invest in research and development to advance knowledge about climate-related risks and develop innovative solutions which should involve collaborations between scientists, policymakers, and communities to find sustainable and effective ways to address climate challenges and seek international cooperation and information sharing to address climate-related risks and build resilience globally by sharing best practices, providing technical assistance to vulnerable regions, and establishing frameworks for collective action.
Many of these strategies do not necessitate large sums of money, but rather leadership, awareness, education, knowledge, advocacy, and motivation aimed at empowering communities to assist themselves reduce the effect of natural and man-made catastrophes. By implementing these safeguards, several governments have safeguarded their citizens’ lives and livelihoods, as well as vital infrastructure. Let us do it now, before the monsoon rains arrive, or otherwise we will be back at the begging bowl, selling pain, distress, and desolation of flood affectees to the rest of the world.