“Much of Pakistan is still underwater? it needs help,” US President Joe Biden alerted the world from the UN forum, rallying all to come together and defy the “human cost of climate change.”
He’s right, we all know we’re already living in a climate crisis. And at that international platform this week, unprecedented floods in Pakistan and unprecedented drought in the Horn of Africa became the faces of this crisis.
The catastrophic monsoon rains that ended up flooding one-third of Pakistan is an indication that other countries are equally vulnerable to climatic changes occurring around the globe. Most of Pakistan’s officials, from top government leaders to the country’s representatives in the US, have been urging the international community to make a ‘quick transition from mitigation and adaptation to preparedness and resilience.’
As considerable as the above request might be, Pakistan as a country stopped short at implementing this transition itself. It’s unavoidable to compare the devastation from recent floods with the one that Pakistan experienced in 2010. Currently, a population of 33 million has been affected, notwithstanding the exponential population explosion. Last time, the affected population was around 20 million.
What happened in this past decade was that lessons learned were lost, conveniently.
The authorities in Pakistan failed to prepare or implement a long term response strategy for any future disasters. Inputs and activities from building up emergency shelters to reconstruction and rehabilitation were grossly ignored along with the stages of continuum to optimize the use of resources for permanent recovery, and minimum waste and redundancy. The flood disaster and destruction the nation is facing now could have been reduced and managed.
Experts and organizations that were instrumental in the recovery process of the 2010 floods mainly argue that transparency and accountability, community participation and politics will have been non-existent since then. They insist that Disaster Risk Management programs were not incorporated in any of the national or provincial development plans throughout this time. These plans were suggested by humanitarian aid and flood relief related organizations down to the district level.
Consider this that the United Nations’ Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-Spider) and Pakistan’s own Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) published a joint ‘Lessons Learned from Floods in Pakistan’ in 2010, outlining that in order for Pakistan to “ensure its efforts towards improving risk reduction are achieved, major improvements have to be made, through the use of remote sensing and GIS technologies in conjunction with flood management and its inter-relationship to flood hazard assessment and planning .”
Pakistani authorities knew what might be coming ahead but unwillingness to do anything about it prevailed. Around the same time, UN-Habitat and NDMA had a two-day “National Conference on Learning from Disasters” in Islamabad, where it was repeatedly mentioned that one of the major reasons behind such high casualties and widespread destruction had been a lack of planning .
Pakistan had already gone through a multitude of natural disasters in the past few years that had left the entire nation vulnerable and in need of focused attention.
“Proper planning was unanimously advocated in the implementation of building codes, seismically safe construction practices, urban and rural planning, environmental consideration and capacity building,” the conference document stated adding that, “many observations were made on the hindrance caused by bad practices. “
A primary concern of all experts attending the conference was a lack of preparedness at government, institutional, organizational, and community levels that perhaps made the effects of the disasters so widespread and calamitous. Practical recommendations were afoot to help Pakistan in becoming more disaster resilient in the future.