Good governance only effective response to erratic rains
September 16, 2011
Flash floods in 2010 and heavy monsoon rains this year have added more poor to the country already burdened with poverty. The victims are least responsible for the climate change that has exposed them to the twin dangers of hunger and disease. After all many have no concern with the irresponsible practices in agricultural sector. Few have any hand in the denudation of the mountains and reducing the forest cover that has failed to slow down the speed of rain water from the ridges of Himalaya, Hindu Kush and Koh-e-Suleman. Nature has to be blamed less than the ignorance of the decision-makers the fine relationship between economy and environment.
Erratic rains of this year have affected about five million people across Pakistan while Sindh is bearing the major brunt of these unusual monsoon downpours which started in the first week of August. The process has not stopped even after the lapse of a month. The economy has suffered badly and the humanitarian crisis has become more than visible given the indifference of the political parties and the civil society vis-à-vis addressing the challenge of flash floods.
Heavens have so far poured 0.3 MAF water on Sindh and has displaced families in its 22 out of 23 districts. Understandably, the people have been affected badly and are suffering from various kinds of diseases after saline and unhygienic water has surrounded them. Livestock is dying due to lack of fodder. The president has appealed to the international community for help and the premier has asked the nation to come forward and console the people in distress. The navy is taking part in the rescue operation. The provincial government has geared up resources, whatever it had, for the relief of the people.
The flood warnings about Sindh had been issued before time and when it became evident that the monsoon could start earlier than the usual time, the international relief agencies released some estimates of possible damages and destructions as well which have, unfortunately, proved correct. It has also become a well-known fact that Pakistan is going to be affected by the climate change. The country may swing between floods and famines. Scarcity and excess of water may force people flee their abodes. Human migration gives birth to its own tragedies.
Though Pakistan can’t stop climate change, actually no country can do it, fighting back the consequences it brings for the people is the job it has to undertake. Either it will fail and have to invite the international community, as it has been doing every time natural disasters have struck it, or it has to rebuild its capabilities to face the challenge boldly. There is no lack of resources if there is necessary and corresponding political will with the political parties of the country.
As had been pointed out last time when flash floods had hit the country, back in 2010, the local governments with proper fiscal and administrative powers are must to address the problems of the people. Given the power centers located in the peripheral regions responses to flash floods are not up to the mark. Obviously, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore will not deliver quickly as bureaucracy takes time to be mobilized. The miseries of the people could have been lessened had local governments been in place.
Commercial agriculture, done by the fuedals and big landlords, has added to the miseries of the people. This has meant irresponsible practices like use of poisonous pesticides, reducing the meandering areas of the rivers and cutting down of trees while erroneously believing that the same were hurdle in the way of enhancing per acre yield. While such poison by seeping down into aquifers and had become part of the food chain, the non-treated industrial waste has also become a source of diseases that is now afflicting the flood victims. It is noteworthy that the rains are unusual; they have hit new regions like eastern Baluchistan, southern parts of KP and Sindh. It means a new natural habitat, change of crop patterns and the means of livelihood for the people. It also means new diseases, which neither the inhabitants are used to nor are they known to the health practitioners.
As the environment experts are predicting monsoon may spare some regions which they have constantly hit in the past, so preparing for droughts is also need of the hour. Rethinking governance and revising the administrative structure of the country is the only answer available for effectively combating the natural disasters. For that matter, Pakistan needs to abandon some policies and practices and adopt new patterns of behaviors while keeping in mind the emerging ground realities.
Implementation of environment laws needs displaying zero-tolerance for the violators, be they agriculturalists or industrialists. Too, Pakistan has well-identified ecosystems. The remodeling of administrative structure should follow this reality of regional existence. The deserts, mountains and flood planes have different development needs. Decentralizing power to these regions while centre remains there for policy guidelines as well as intervention is the ultimate cure to floods and droughts.
Urban planning and patterns of settlements should be done keeping in mind that the weather patterns are changing and flash floods hitting these urban areas can wreak more havoc than the countryside. The burden of population on the major cities needs to be lessened. While population has to be dispersed, the forest covers needs to be increased to at least to 15% of the total landmass.