The scenes have become all too familiar: submerged crops; army helicopters dropping food rations; volunteers and soldiers wading through knee-deep water carrying the old and the frail; embankments filled with men, women, children and livestock.

These images have been etched on the collective memory of Pakistanis since the 2010 mega Indus floods deluged a fifth of the country, affecting 21 million people. But today such scenes fail to stir the nation’s compassion. Since then Pakistan has faced deluges every year.

Experts say the intensity and frequency of flood in Pakistan will only increase.

“It’s a whole new ball game and climate trend lines can no longer be followed,” said Pervaiz Amir, a water expert and former member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change. “Rains have become more intense and fall in a shorter period,” and warmer temperatures are leading to faster melting of the Himalayan glaciers, compounding the risks of flooding.

An estimated 715,000 people in Pakistan are affected by floods each year resulting an annual loss of almost 1% to the country’s GDP, which translates into US$2.7 billion. In what is a cascading effect, as many as 2.7 million people could be affected annually by river-floods in Pakistan by 2030, according to the World Resources Institute.

Living with floods

But floods do not have to result in death and destruction, argues Syed Mahmud Nasir, Inspector General of Forests at the Ministry of Climate Change: “If only we can see it as an opportunity and learn to adapt to the annual floods instead of controlling them.”

Protecting forests and natural resources can significantly reduce flood risks, he says. This means developing new laws and implementing existing ones to protect the environment, along with strengthening flood early warning system and restricting development in floodplain zones.

Such measures have been missing from Pakistan’s flood management strategy so far.

At first, Nasir’s new approach to floods was met with incredulity by most legislators: “I was simply told this was beyond their comprehension that I was welcoming floods,” he told thethirdpole.net.

But now that Pakistan’s government is drafting its fourth national flood prevention plan, things may be set to change.

Lessons from the past

Three years back, in 2012, the climate change ministry invited the Ramsar Advisory Mission (RAM), a group of experts under the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands, to visit the Indus River in Pakistan and submitted a report suggesting a cost effective strategy to use flood water wisely and identify wetlands for restoration.

While agriculture and housing have encroached on large areas of the Indus floodplains – some experts estimate as much as 50% of the basin – there is still plenty more land where flood water from the Indus can be drained. The Ramsar experts identified sites such as the Lal Suhanra National Park as well as those along Guddu and Sukkur barrages in Sindh province.

Well known hydrologist Zaigham Habib agrees that unless forests in the watershed and along rivers are protected the destruction caused by floods will continue.

But land use management is a difficult political issue, Habib points out. “Who wants to make policies which will benefit the province or the nation to their own personal disadvantage and monetary loss?”

Over time, influential politicians and landlords have allowed landless people – and their voter base – to settle and farm on floodplains. Habib gave the example of riverine areas in Sindh, where permanent structures, roads and electricity poles have been built within the flood zones. “These poor people get money and therefore do not mind being relocated every year [when floods destroy their houses]. They return again in more numbers than before,” she said.

The Ramsar experts advised Pakistan to study China’s Yangtze River Basin management plan developed after massive floods in 1998 killed more than 4,000 people and resulted in economic losses of an estimated US$25 billion. “The Chinese learnt a costly lesson that hard engineering solutions often fail to control flood water and that expensive embankments are often ineffective,” said Nasir.

Learning from China

The Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world, flows over 6,300 kilometres through 19 provinces in China. It has always been prone to terrible floods but by the 1990s, the floods had become more frequent and resulting losses even greater. Widespread deforestation and erosion in the upper reaches of the river and shrinking of lakes and wetlands in the central and lower reaches exacerbated the situation. The Chinese government had built dikes to protect agricultural land and when these were breached, the loss of life and property was colossal.

But the 1998 flood proved to be the turning point for China. The authorities began to question the efficacy of engineering solutions and realised the importance of restoring the floodplains and the natural environment. After the floods, the Chinese government introduced its so-called 32 character policy, which aimed to reduce flood threats by working with nature rather than fighting it. They decided to reforest land in the watershed, reclaim floodplains and restore wetlands. But most importantly, they decided there should be a single river water management authority that could take an integrated approach to environment, ecosystem and economy.

Today, 12 of the 19 provinces in the Yangtze River Basin have wetland conservation regulations and more than 140 national wetland parks have been established. The government has also relocated 2.1 million people from floodplains, banned logging and prohibited farming on steep slopes to prevent further erosion.

Back then, the Chinese government was caught up in fire-fighting and finding short term solutions like dike reinforcement and dredging with little focus on more sustainable and long-term strategies to protect against floods.

“But once they realised, there was no looking back,” Nasir said, adding that parliamentarians should visit the Yangtze and see the impact for themselves.

Integrated approach to flood risk management

Pakistan’s government has begun devise its own plan to reduce flood risks.

The National Engineering Services of Pakistan has developed the country’s fourth national flood protection plan (2015-2025), with assistance from the Netherlands based Deltares institute and after almost two years of consultation with various stakeholders.

Now in its final shape, the ten year strategy is sitting with the water and power ministry waiting for officials to breathe life into it.

This plan could mark a major break with Pakistan’s current approach to flood management. For the first time, the national strategy emphasises integrated flood management and ‘soft’ measures – such as mapping floodplains, restoring the watershed and forests upstream.

In addition a River Act (currently being vetted by the law ministry) has been drafted to stop encroachment on floodplains.

The draft plan also envisages the construction of large reservoirs in already identified areas, including the Kalabagh, Diamer Basha, Akhroi, Munda, Chiniot and Kurram Tangi dams, and upgrading the flood early warning system.

Looking back at Pakistan’s past national flood plans, there has been a gradual shift away from building embankments and dikes, to non-structural measures such as institutional reform, developing early warning systems and mapping floodplains under the third national plan (1998-2008).

The most recent draft plan goes a step further and takes a more holistic approach to dealing with floods.

It may put to rest Habib’s grievance that the previous flood protection plans seemed to reflect “scattered knowledge, old school fixed solutions and a lack of integrated approach”.

Who will implement the new flood strategy?

Pakistan’s Federal Flood Commission, under the Water and Power Ministry, is responsible for flood management planning and will oversee the implementation of the new plan. It has members from the various government agencies that are supposed to coordinate the management of the Indus River – including the Water and Power Development Authority, various provincial irrigation departments, the army and provincial environment protection agencies. However, in practice different government bodies tend to work in their own silos.

A judicial tribunal to probe the poor governance and corruption  that exacerbated damage caused by the 2010 floods found that the Federal Flood Commission (FFC) had failed to develop an integrated flood management plan for the country.

Unless there is an effective mechanism for cooperation between and within government departments nothing will change, says Nasir. He believes a single authority should oversee all the floodplains, wetlands and forests in the river basin.

“We have the wildlife department that looks at birds only; the forest department that will only see the health of the trees in state-owned forests, the irrigation department that will look at engineering works; the water and power authority that thinks only dams are needed and the disaster management authority just gives out bags of rice and flour during every disaster,” said Nasir.

Whether the new flood strategy will tackle these issues head on will only become clear once the document has been made public and then the real discussion can begin.

 

 

 

22 comments

  1. Great piece! I have been writing on climate change and global warming since 1997 but sadly enough the editors have no sense of placement. They place my stories in inside pages. Pakistan need to build small dams and refrain from constructing the infamous Kalabagh dam that has devoured billions of rupees on feasibility alone. We should learn from People’s republic of China and go for massive afforestation. River Indus happens to be one the greatest rivers of the world. According to Stanley Wolpert India derived its name from Indus.

  2. Great piece! I have been writing on climate change and global warming since 1997 but sadly enough the editors have no sense of placement. They place my stories in inside pages. Pakistan need to build small dams and refrain from constructing the infamous Kalabagh dam that has devoured billions of rupees on feasibility alone. We should learn from People’s republic of China and go for massive afforestation. River Indus happens to be one the greatest rivers of the world. According to Stanley Wolpert India derived its name from Indus.

  3. The new Forest Policy 2015 drafted under the first full fledged federal Minister Climate Change exactly calls for a separate wetlands management authority , as has been done by so many countries. The Policy is posted in the Ministry of Climate Change Website and may take a few months to reach the approval stage , this story by Zofen helps to influence the top decision makers . But the million dollars question is whether the political government will show its mettle in bypassing the wont of engineers who have the habit of proposing extravagant dykes and flood control structures that aim to save agricultural lands and towns and hasten the floods to be thrown to the sea. This is a story fit to be taken up for debate in the provincial and national assemblies
    M Ali Shah
    ZOON
    Hunting Safaris
    Rawalpindi

  4. The new Forest Policy 2015 drafted under the first full fledged federal Minister Climate Change exactly calls for a separate wetlands management authority , as has been done by so many countries. The Policy is posted in the Ministry of Climate Change Website and may take a few months to reach the approval stage , this story by Zofen helps to influence the top decision makers . But the million dollars question is whether the political government will show its mettle in bypassing the wont of engineers who have the habit of proposing extravagant dykes and flood control structures that aim to save agricultural lands and towns and hasten the floods to be thrown to the sea. This is a story fit to be taken up for debate in the provincial and national assemblies
    M Ali Shah
    ZOON
    Hunting Safaris
    Rawalpindi

  5. No doubt the best brains of Pakistan are in the bureaucracy as the private sector is still so small. In the past these guys would bring in newer ideas and talk about how they did some nation building or environmental job. Their wives’ talk was about how she helped some poor family etc etc. But today the officers talk is about foreign trips and how they survive in a system of postings based on political and personal systems. The lady wives are busy with show off of their diamonds at coffee mornings. Original ideas like flood plain management that is cheaper is lest likely to succeed as the institutions deployed to manage floods would not do away with status quo.
    Fingers crossed let us see if Zoffen the author can make a change with “softies like this one ”

    NAture lover anonymous

  6. No doubt the best brains of Pakistan are in the bureaucracy as the private sector is still so small. In the past these guys would bring in newer ideas and talk about how they did some nation building or environmental job. Their wives’ talk was about how she helped some poor family etc etc. But today the officers talk is about foreign trips and how they survive in a system of postings based on political and personal systems. The lady wives are busy with show off of their diamonds at coffee mornings. Original ideas like flood plain management that is cheaper is lest likely to succeed as the institutions deployed to manage floods would not do away with status quo.
    Fingers crossed let us see if Zoffen the author can make a change with “softies like this one ”

    NAture lover anonymous

  7. For the first time I have head somebody talking sense about floods! That’s the way to go!
    But to restore wetlands/forests, you require water back into the river, but we are sucking the rivers dry for the sake of irrigation. Any thoughts on how to return waters back into the rivers from the agriculture sector,in order to maintain our wetlands and forests, without jeoperdizing the food security and agriculture economy?

  8. For the first time I have head somebody talking sense about floods! That’s the way to go!
    But to restore wetlands/forests, you require water back into the river, but we are sucking the rivers dry for the sake of irrigation. Any thoughts on how to return waters back into the rivers from the agriculture sector,in order to maintain our wetlands and forests, without jeoperdizing the food security and agriculture economy?

  9. Pingback: Pakistan’s new prefer to take hold of Floods

  10. Pingback: Pakistan’s new prefer to take hold of Floods

  11. Swapan Kumar mukhopadhyay |

    It is a well researched article pointing the restoration of ecological balance to mitigate flood. The river should not be treated as a canal but as a dynamic system within the frame work of river basin environment. We should relearn our traditional methods of flood control and water conservation which were in vogue before the philosophy of controlling nature by the use of technology deeply entrenched in our social psyche during 20th century. There were series of embankment with planned breaches along the river to let excess flood water into the known part of flood plain. Large tanks and wells with lush green vegetation dotted the countryside.
    The concept of industrial monocroping agriculture to produce more food by the input of fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide and huge amount of water for irrigation led to colonise every part of flood plain. To meet the demand of irrigation water, rivers were chained with many large dams and groundwater was overexploited much beyond the rechargeable capacity. It resulted into siltation of river and lowering of groundwater level leading to reducing of flow and withholding capacity of water. Moreover, huge discharge of excess water from dam/ reservoir during rainy season also inundates more areas.
    The idea of adapting lifecycle with the flood cycle of river is the most rational approach. But the success depends on the rate of community level participation. State should bear the cost of resettlement of the people out of flood plain and they should also be compensated for the ecological service. Green brigade should be formed under the supervision of elected local body to carry out water harvesting, soil conservation and afforestation under PUP (joint venture of public utility and people) model. It becomes very successful in different Latin American countries. Devolution of groundwater and forest right to local community may increase more participation of people for these ecological services.

  12. Swapan Kumar mukhopadhyay |

    It is a well researched article pointing the restoration of ecological balance to mitigate flood. The river should not be treated as a canal but as a dynamic system within the frame work of river basin environment. We should relearn our traditional methods of flood control and water conservation which were in vogue before the philosophy of controlling nature by the use of technology deeply entrenched in our social psyche during 20th century. There were series of embankment with planned breaches along the river to let excess flood water into the known part of flood plain. Large tanks and wells with lush green vegetation dotted the countryside.
    The concept of industrial monocroping agriculture to produce more food by the input of fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide and huge amount of water for irrigation led to colonise every part of flood plain. To meet the demand of irrigation water, rivers were chained with many large dams and groundwater was overexploited much beyond the rechargeable capacity. It resulted into siltation of river and lowering of groundwater level leading to reducing of flow and withholding capacity of water. Moreover, huge discharge of excess water from dam/ reservoir during rainy season also inundates more areas.
    The idea of adapting lifecycle with the flood cycle of river is the most rational approach. But the success depends on the rate of community level participation. State should bear the cost of resettlement of the people out of flood plain and they should also be compensated for the ecological service. Green brigade should be formed under the supervision of elected local body to carry out water harvesting, soil conservation and afforestation under PUP (joint venture of public utility and people) model. It becomes very successful in different Latin American countries. Devolution of groundwater and forest right to local community may increase more participation of people for these ecological services.

  13. Zofeeen Your flood story is great in order to make it happen keep up the pace till Pakistan decides to use floods as a bane or boon but it should be informed decision. More than one billion was spent by WWF for wetlands project and they did all sorts of activities for ten years on river systems and saving wetlands. As a naturalist who travels a lot I see no change on nay wetlands the situation on ground is even worse than it was before the Pakistan Wetlands Project. . . Please WWF may respond with articulated replies in what they did for floodplain management and which wetland is better today than it was had there been no PWP by WWF.
    RAM and flood plain management was was initiated by the office of the IGF because WWF being reticent would neither understand nor had the capacity to address complex issues like flood plain management . the New DG WWF appears to be trying but with old team my fingers are crossed
    Ali Shah Rawalindu

  14. Zofeeen Your flood story is great in order to make it happen keep up the pace till Pakistan decides to use floods as a bane or boon but it should be informed decision. More than one billion was spent by WWF for wetlands project and they did all sorts of activities for ten years on river systems and saving wetlands. As a naturalist who travels a lot I see no change on nay wetlands the situation on ground is even worse than it was before the Pakistan Wetlands Project. . . Please WWF may respond with articulated replies in what they did for floodplain management and which wetland is better today than it was had there been no PWP by WWF.
    RAM and flood plain management was was initiated by the office of the IGF because WWF being reticent would neither understand nor had the capacity to address complex issues like flood plain management . the New DG WWF appears to be trying but with old team my fingers are crossed
    Ali Shah Rawalindu

  15. Pingback: Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin, August 03, 2015 | SANDRP

  16. Pingback: Dams, Rivers & People News Bulletin, August 03, 2015 | SANDRP

  17. Timely and well researched article on flooding in Pakistan. It is not sporadic flooding in Pakistan, since 2010 there is perennial flooding in Chenab and parts of Indus River. Article capture the issues related to engineering solution and integrated watershed management and restoration of wetlands to minimize the losses.

    There are couple other issues related to flooding and losses as well. One important area is our infrastructure development, which is less sensitive to comprehend the future implications of such infrastructure such as road, bridges and building on water flows. Though national disaster management plan developed by NDMA talks about disaster resilience infrastructure and suggests to investing at least 2% of the development budget on disaster resilience infrastructure. However to materialize this investment, provincial government needs to prioritize the issues of prevention rather wait for disasters and engage in relief work.

    Second important issues is poverty and marginalization linked to population increase. Increased number of poor people not finding other place for living and livelihood, settle in floodplain. They bear the burnt of flooding, loosing whatever little they have. This issue is broadly linked with unequal distribution of land and opportunities. The more the number of settlements and people living in riverine areas the more chance of damage

    Third issues is related to our overall governance structure and political prioritizing. We are usually late in thinking and responding to emerging challenges then their impact. Though we are good at policy making put slow in implementation, partly due to narrow political vision and partly bureaucratic hurdles.

  18. Timely and well researched article on flooding in Pakistan. It is not sporadic flooding in Pakistan, since 2010 there is perennial flooding in Chenab and parts of Indus River. Article capture the issues related to engineering solution and integrated watershed management and restoration of wetlands to minimize the losses.

    There are couple other issues related to flooding and losses as well. One important area is our infrastructure development, which is less sensitive to comprehend the future implications of such infrastructure such as road, bridges and building on water flows. Though national disaster management plan developed by NDMA talks about disaster resilience infrastructure and suggests to investing at least 2% of the development budget on disaster resilience infrastructure. However to materialize this investment, provincial government needs to prioritize the issues of prevention rather wait for disasters and engage in relief work.

    Second important issues is poverty and marginalization linked to population increase. Increased number of poor people not finding other place for living and livelihood, settle in floodplain. They bear the burnt of flooding, loosing whatever little they have. This issue is broadly linked with unequal distribution of land and opportunities. The more the number of settlements and people living in riverine areas the more chance of damage

    Third issues is related to our overall governance structure and political prioritizing. We are usually late in thinking and responding to emerging challenges then their impact. Though we are good at policy making put slow in implementation, partly due to narrow political vision and partly bureaucratic hurdles.

  19. Posted on behalf of
    Dr. Muhammad Afzal Chaudhry, Chief Environment, Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project:

    While formulating new flood policy, the following points must be kept in view:-
    1. Total water available in Indus water system, on an average is 136 million acre feet. This, if managed non-politically, is much more than the real need of Pakistan.
    2. Of that 32 million acre feet were diverted through link canals to replace the water loss for surrendering three eastern rivers i.e Bias, Ravi and Chenab. The balance 102 million acre feet is distributed amongst provinces to irrigate areas not commanded by link canals.
    3. The water distribution by IRSA is done to satisfy the political pressures rather than actual physical needs of various areas under agriculture in Pakistan. That results in over irrigating some areas and leads to heavy water logging and loss of precious agricultural land.
    4. Almost everywhere in Pakistan, hard path irrigation system using flood irrigation is used. Soft path irrigation systems are not used simply to get greater share of water due to an unhealthy interprovincial hostility. Water is thus wasted and not saved .
    5. The hydrologists managing the river water have no idea of the climatic cycle in Pakistan. They have not studied Sura Yusuf in the holy Quraan giving clear indication of 14 years climatic cycle in Egypt ; 7 wet years followed by 7 dry years. The satellite data collected at the time of construction of Aswan Dam only confirmed the Quranic truth. Wise nations collect surplus of wet years behind well planned Dams and use that in dry period. What is flood ? It is the surplus of the climatic cycle let loose in wet years. Through a corridor of destruction, it ends up in the sea.

    6. The climate change has triggered rains from Arabian Sea which are received earlier than the summer monsoon rains coming from the Bay of Bengal. This additional water availability must be kept in view while calculating the real water requirement for agriculture in southern part of the country.

    7. On noticing the wastage and misuse of water followed by devastating floods, one is constrained to agree to the proposal of ” Water Costing “. If a cost is put on water, only needy will purchase it according its real requirement. Water should be treated as a commodity and not as some sort of political gambut. When every area will purchase the water according to its real needs, its demand shall be much less than the current scenario.
    For storing and regulating the water so saved, the nation can build required dams and reservoirs. There shall be no water available for causing floods. Into the bargain, a huge quantity of hydroelectricity will be generated.

    Dr. Muhammad Afzal Chaudhry,
    Chief Environment,
    Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project,
    Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir.
    Phone: 0333 4848491.

  20. Posted on behalf of
    Dr. Muhammad Afzal Chaudhry, Chief Environment, Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project:

    While formulating new flood policy, the following points must be kept in view:-
    1. Total water available in Indus water system, on an average is 136 million acre feet. This, if managed non-politically, is much more than the real need of Pakistan.
    2. Of that 32 million acre feet were diverted through link canals to replace the water loss for surrendering three eastern rivers i.e Bias, Ravi and Chenab. The balance 102 million acre feet is distributed amongst provinces to irrigate areas not commanded by link canals.
    3. The water distribution by IRSA is done to satisfy the political pressures rather than actual physical needs of various areas under agriculture in Pakistan. That results in over irrigating some areas and leads to heavy water logging and loss of precious agricultural land.
    4. Almost everywhere in Pakistan, hard path irrigation system using flood irrigation is used. Soft path irrigation systems are not used simply to get greater share of water due to an unhealthy interprovincial hostility. Water is thus wasted and not saved .
    5. The hydrologists managing the river water have no idea of the climatic cycle in Pakistan. They have not studied Sura Yusuf in the holy Quraan giving clear indication of 14 years climatic cycle in Egypt ; 7 wet years followed by 7 dry years. The satellite data collected at the time of construction of Aswan Dam only confirmed the Quranic truth. Wise nations collect surplus of wet years behind well planned Dams and use that in dry period. What is flood ? It is the surplus of the climatic cycle let loose in wet years. Through a corridor of destruction, it ends up in the sea.

    6. The climate change has triggered rains from Arabian Sea which are received earlier than the summer monsoon rains coming from the Bay of Bengal. This additional water availability must be kept in view while calculating the real water requirement for agriculture in southern part of the country.

    7. On noticing the wastage and misuse of water followed by devastating floods, one is constrained to agree to the proposal of ” Water Costing “. If a cost is put on water, only needy will purchase it according its real requirement. Water should be treated as a commodity and not as some sort of political gambut. When every area will purchase the water according to its real needs, its demand shall be much less than the current scenario.
    For storing and regulating the water so saved, the nation can build required dams and reservoirs. There shall be no water available for causing floods. Into the bargain, a huge quantity of hydroelectricity will be generated.

    Dr. Muhammad Afzal Chaudhry,
    Chief Environment,
    Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project,
    Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir.
    Phone: 0333 4848491.

  21. Pingback: Pakistan’s new plan to embrace floods | ifdronline

  22. Pingback: Pakistan’s new plan to embrace floods | ifdronline

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