After experiencing the hottest summers in April and May, Pakistan has been hit by an extreme monsoon season. Globally, Pakistan has been considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. For years, it has suffered record-breaking temperatures, torrential rains, glacial melt, drought, and floods. Despite a history of intense floods, the country was ill-prepared for this year’s monsoon rainfall. Another reason responsible for this devastating scenario is the economic crisis in the country that hampered Pakistan’s capacity to address the ongoing fallout, particularly the worsening humanitarian crisis.
Even so, the scale of recent flooding in Pakistan is staggering. Pakistan’s agricultural lands are devastated, with one-third of its territory submerging in floodwater. Approximately 15% of the population has been affected by floods. The floods have displaced about half a million people, and nearly 1200 people, including 350 children, have lost their lives. Moreover, over 735,000 livestock have perished, and 2 million acres of crops have been adversely affected, besides severe damage to communication infrastructure. These numbers may still rise as the full extent of the damage is still unknown. In such a hard-hit situation, government agencies and non-profit organisations are helping to rescue and assist the people stranded in flood-affected areas.
Read on to find out what major repercussions flood-affected people in Pakistan are facing and what the government should do to prevent it from happening again.
What are the Immense Impacts of Floods?
The effects of floods are felt across individuals and communities, impacting their social, economic, and environmental well-being. When assessing flooding impacts, it is important to consider the location and extent of flooding and the natural and constructed environments’ vulnerability and value. We will discuss the following impacts of floods in Pakistan one by one in detail:
Damage to infrastructure
Damage to the agriculture sector
Public health risk
Damage to Infrastructure
Climate change has charged super climate events such as heavy rainfall and melting glaciers. Similar extreme climate events were witnessed in Pakistan recently in the form of floods which submerged the whole country. These floods washed away roads, bridges, and villages. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reported that more than a million houses were swiped away by the floods. Certain villages are cut off from any help because of poorly impaired transport routes. About 3500 square kilometres of roads are washed away, making it much more difficult to operate rescue missions. Moreover, 165 bridges were destroyed by the flash floods leaving people surviving on their own. For these people, the military has been operating rescue missions through helicopter shuttling to the country to rescue people left in flooded areas. However, one of the major reasons for the vulnerability of these areas to floods is poor infrastructure and a lack of planned development. The country also has an economic crisis, which delays the emergency measures to mitigate flood damage.
Damage to Agriculture Sector
The agricultural sector is important for Pakistan, contributing 23% to the GDP. The livelihood of 65-70% of the population depends on it. However, it is one of the most-affected sectors due to floods. According to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the flood has devastated around 4 million crops. Sindh reported extensive damage to its cotton crop, about 40% of its total yield. Indeed, the loss of standing crops not just affected the income bases of farmers but also impacted the overall production. Agricultural productivity was further degraded by the loss of seed stocks and tools, the destruction of irrigation channels, and land erosion.
Livestock is a secondary source of income and fulfils household food and nutrition requirements. Notable losses in the livestock sector were also observed due to floods. NDMA reported that 800,000 livestock fled away in the floods.
On the flip side, agriculture’s reliance on river bodies for irrigation and its high number of poor, rural communities makes it vulnerable to flood impacts. All of this will have a severe impact on the economy and result in food insecurity across the country.
Public Health at Risk
Approximately 33 million people in Pakistan are affected by floods. Around 6 million need urgent help. In various areas, people are living in ad hoc camps with virtually no hygiene and sanitation, little food and no access to medication. Due to these reasons, public health is at risk. Around 5 million people, particularly children, are at high risk from water-borne and vector-borne diseases. Doctors and other relief workers have notified that many people suffer emotional trauma from the flooding. Moreover, hundreds of cases of diarrhoea, skin infections and other waterborne diseases are being found among all age groups. Pregnant and lactating women are at separate risk, as more than 70,000 women are expected to deliver in September 2022.
Several of the hardest-hit areas were already among the most vulnerable in Pakistan, where children suffer from malnutrition and lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Due to the lack of clean water, there is a high risk of cholera, typhoid, gastroenteritis, dengue, and malaria. All these stated diseases are more likely to flare up in flood-affected areas where water and sanitation facilities were ravaged. Most affected areas have damaged public health facilities, medicines destroyed by the floodwater, and displaced health workers from their homes. The suffering of people is emotional, mental, financial, and physical.
Although government agencies, NGOs and domestic people are putting effort into providing basic medical care to the millions of affected people, meeting such a huge demand in a limited supply of time is a big challenge.
What can be Done?
Of all the natural disasters, flooding is one of the most impactful and challenging emergencies to prepare for and respond to. Therefore, any government should be prepared to withstand a flooding incident. In response to flooding, the government should prioritise the basic recommendations listed below.
Response Plan for Floods
As flooding can cost millions of damages to the community, recovery can often take years. Consequently, the government must take action to protect its communication and agricultural infrastructure. In this regard, the government should prepare constituents to react appropriately in the case of a severe flood and have a response plan to move quickly to handle impairments.
Develop Flood Water Diversions
In areas prone to floods, construct floodwater diversion structures such as dams or dikes that can be utilised to store water during a flood and divert it to prevent its spread into neighbourhoods, agricultural lands, and villages.
Create an Emergency Plan
The government should create an emergency preparedness plan for how communities will immediately respond to a major flood. For doing so, the government should prepare evacuation routes and communication lines. Moreover, government institutions should train and provide resources to flood-affected areas to mitigate their risks before disasters and also they can recover efficiently.
Operate Rescue Mission and Update GIS Mapping
Suppose, flood-affected people could not evacuate in time and were stuck at the local spots with nowhere to go. Government and other emergency departments should actively seek and operate proper rescue missions to find missing persons in the flooded areas. In this regard, boats and helicopters are the best options to utilise to rescue people stranded in flooded areas. Updating GIS mapping will be beneficial as the government and other organisations can quickly use GIS maps when a flood occurs. This way, the community members will know the evacuation routes, emergency services, and areas that are affected and should be avoided.
Provision of Essentials for Flooded Victims
The floods have impacted about 15% of the country’s population, leaving no food to eat, no shelter to stay in, and a healthy environment to survive. The government should prioritise providing victims with temporary shelter and offering them food to survive. In addition, the government should also hold a medical camp for the affected people as there are hundreds of cases that appear with water and vector-borne diseases.
The incumbent government should also take responsibility for distributing rations among the victims to avoid the “fight for food” scenario. Also, inspect the foreign and local aid cycle reaches the actual flood victims.
The current floods happened on a bigger scale than those in 2010. However, this time government agencies, NGOs and individuals are playing a pivotal role in helping flood-affected people by operating rescue missions to save lives, providing food, tents to stay and medical camps for poor health conditions. Although, the government should also create emergency plans for such natural disasters and take action to mitigate the impacts of floods in the future.