Since her inception, Pakistan has faced 21 cases of devastating flooding. While the first case emerged way back in 1950, the government of Pakistan has done quite little to prevent, forecast, manage and mitigate the perils of such disaster. While the torrential rains have been caused by natural forces, the human disaster has been compounded by decades of government neglect and the lack of planning and infrastructure. Few of the causes of flooding include insufficient dams, lack of woodland, climate change, and salinization.
Insufficient Dams: There are roughly 150 dams in Pakistan which are insufficient in storing the abundance of rainwater especially in monsoon season. Floods of 2010 were worst in the history of Pakistan. They proved to be an epitome of dire consequences of failing to have adequate reservoirs or storage units across the country. In addition, sedimentation has lowered the water storage capacity of dams. Tarbela and Mangla dams, already have 35% of reduced water capacity due to silt accumulation.
Lack of forest: Trees intercept precipitation – catch water to drink via roots. Unfortunately, there is a minute concept of planting trees along the bank of the river channel. As a result, water seepages occur. During floods of 2010, seepages in a number of irrigation canals Left Bank Outfall Drain drowned various agricultural fields as well as towns like Mirpurkhas, Tando Muhammad Khan and Badin.
Climate Change: Pakistan is among the list of countries that are grossly affected by climate change. With the temperature rise of 1.1⁰C since 19th century and sea-level rise of 8 inches, Pakistan faces an alarming risk of contingent floods and other natural calamities. Climate change is mainly caused by growing mechanization and deforestation.
Salinization: Salinization occurs when water-soluble salts accumulate in soil resulting in ecological, fiscal and agrarian losses. It may occur due to physical or chemical weathering, overexploitation of groundwater or excessive use of fertilizers. It ultimately affects the percolation of water hence, flooding the area at the time of rainfall or river/canal water seepages. According to a report of Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, 53% of Sindh suffers from waterlogging and salinity. Hence, rainwater of more than the average, say 300mm per year, do not penetrate through the silt accumulated on the soil surface.
All aforementioned factors are the major sources that exacerbate heavy rainfall, water leakages from dams, rivers, and canals result in disastrous flooding. The effects, however, can be greatly curtailed by efficient water planning, preventive measures taken by risk management authorities, implement hard engineering solutions and by raising public awareness.
Hard Engineering Solutions: Pakistan receives a total of 153 MAF surface water and 24 MAF from groundwater resources. With the growing demand for water across the country, building water storage units and regulation infrastructure is the need of the hour. This will not only help in meeting the water requirements of the country but it will also be instrumental in preventing a vast chronicle of floods history in Pakistan.
- Dams: Creation of small and large scale dams on an ad hoc basis should be the very first priority of the federal government of Pakistan. Dams play an important role in controlling floodwater. Construction of dams in the areas of Diamer Basha, Akhroi and Munda – which were identified in the fourth national flood protection plan (2015-2025) – should be implemented on a priority basis. The excessive water in reservoirs can be supplied to drought-ridden areas of Sindh and Balouchistan and improve fertility of the soil for irrigation.
- Restoring wetlands: Government should introduce wetlands across the country to store rainwater or divert river water in case of floods. These wetlands should be deepened and proper embankment should be done. While 50% of Indus flood plain is encroached by houses and agriculture, a group of experts from the Ramsar International Convention on wetlands still believe that there is plenty of lands where Indus water can be drained.
- Rainwater Harvesting: It should be encouraged by the federal and provincial governments to install small filtration plants on houses, factories, and other buildings. World Bank should be approached to help construct artificial levees via its Flood Action Plan.
- Canal maintenance: Gradual-sided channels should be built to control the flow of water. Proper maintenance of canals can slow down the surface run-off. The concept of water harvesting aims at the storage of rainwater and its filtration to make it fit for drinking and irrigation.
Protecting the environment: Protecting forests can significantly reduce flood risk. This means new laws should be stipulated and existing laws should be implemented. A billion trees tsunami project by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is a touchstone project to look after the environment and weighing overtures of shifting government policies. Afforestation along banks of rivers and canals can protect river bending from its original way. The silt catchment due to afforestation can further clean the river channels from debris hence, the already shrunk Indus Delta can be protected.
Public awareness: It is up to Disaster Management Authorities to raise public awareness among the country’s population. Farmers should be educated about effective irrigation processes and techniques of recharging aquifers. Sprinkle and drip irrigation processes should be encouraged to utilize rainwater stored in wetlands of arid plains. Spurts of monsoon rainwater should be regulated efficiently to flood irrigate Kharif crops like rice. Preventive projects like flushing of fertilizers should be executed to lower down the risks of salinization and waterlogging. Cutting edge flood monitoring systems technologies should be developed to forecast risks of floods and adequate literature in the education system should be introduced to aware the countrymen of causes, effects and preventive methods of floods.
From the above exposition, it can be concluded that floods are a result of natural causes but they take a disastrous turn due to poor management and inability to take proper preventive measures timely. The effects can be effectively mitigated by developing appropriate infrastructure, protection of a healthy environment and imparting public awareness in the masses. Pakistan’s Federal Flood Commission has to plan flood management and make sure that the provisions are duly implemented.
Author: Ali Dino