Our flood (mis)management – 07 Sep 2022

Floods and earthquakes are defined as natural disasters that cannot be averted

This season, Pakistan received 2.87 times more rains than what has been our average for 30 years. These unprecedented rains caused flash floods that inflicted huge losses on life and property, serving a lethal blow to an already fragile national economy. The ongoing disastrous situation has once again brought into focus the efficacy of the disaster management apparatus amid an overall governance crisis in the country.

Floods and earthquakes are defined as natural disasters that cannot be averted. However, preparedness, prevention, mitigation and community mobilisation are essentials of disaster management. Early warning systems maintained by the Metrological Department are required to issue timely alerts. It is then the job of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) — assisted by disaster management authorities in the provinces called PDMA — to inform the communities about the danger and shift them to government-designated safe places through commissioners and deputy commissioners as well as other tiers of local administration.

Although deputy commissioners and divisional commissioners do take an active part in relief activities after a disaster has struck, the failure to act in advance — that is their lack of focus on preventive action over the years — is responsible for the situation to have aggravated to this extent.

As revenue collectors, deputy commissioners and divisional commissioners are required to carry out periodic checks regarding water channels and waterways. As administrators, they are supposed to ensure the implementation of Canal and Drainage Act.

But unfortunately, there is serious neglect in the context. All matters have been left at the disposal of the respective patwari, district qanungo, irrigation sub-engineer, and at best tehsildar. They are generally in league with all those who have raised constructions, mostly illegal, in those areas, thus blocking the natural courses of water. It is the ineptness and corruption on the part of these commissioners and deputy commissioners — who are posted without being vetted by intelligence officials — that has often resulted in what is called criminal negligence.

The incumbent Army Chief was quite right when he suggested action against officials granting permissions for raising construction in waterways in violation of the codes. This not only entails action under Efficiency and Discipline Rules and but also under criminal law.

In this context, Flood Commission Report may also be examined. Moreover, fresh case studies of Charsada, Mardan and Swabi may also be carried out. The factors causing increased vulnerability to urban floods include unplanned urbanisation, outdated water sewerage system, encroachments along the waterways. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Hayatabad and Peshawar City (Shahi Khatta) are cases in point.

It is not out of place to mention here that the British, while carrying out permanent settlement of land, also measured water courses in the akas shajra and musawia of the Revenue Record. The Revenue Collector, responsible for protection of water courses, enjoyed magisterial powers to punish any person disturbing the water courses. The Revenue official by law was required to make entries in girdawaris.

Case studies of Charsada, Mardan and Swabi suggest that river beds, natural drains, man-made drains, slide drains, etc have been encroached upon and blocked. Settlements, musawia and field books are not being properly maintained and also manipulated. Roads are being built without having side drains, causeways and culverts. Ruthless cutting of forests and plants in the catchment areas of hills is compounding the problem further. Moreover, lack of coordination between the irrigation department and other departments involved in development work aggravates the situation, and work on irrigation schemes in patches does not give the desired results.

With the problems diagnosed, it is essential to take to task all such commissioners and technical personnel who demonstrated negligence and were, in fact, partners in crimes.

The Supreme Court order to bring down the constructions raised in violation of law in Karachi should serve as a precedent to be followed all over Pakistan.

The Revenue department should be revitalised with all legal powers by posting personnel of impeccable integrity through a process of scrutiny by intelligence agencies.

A comprehensive survey should be carried out on the pattern of settlement during the British days and encroachments on all drains and nullahs should be removed. The revenue and irrigation departments should conduct field surveys and annual reviews and remove encroachments. Magistrates should be appointed under the Canal and Drainage Act and punishments and fines should be enhanced. Revenue and irrigation staff should be deputed for malia (revenue) assessment.

Cutting of trees should be checked and small dams constructed. Inputs from irrigation and environmental departments must be taken before granting approval to any projects. The mining department should get a no-objection certificate from the irrigation department before tendering mine leasing.

All water channels and drains must be cleaned after floods, according to the original designs, and new ones should be constructed. Necessary staff should be sanctioned for the irrigation department for drainage cleaning.

The Federal Flood Commission should be activated by providing requisite funds and staff. Provincial governments, in coordination with the National Disaster Management Authority, should prepare a flood management plan for hilly nullahs. The donations received from international donors should be shared with the provinces according to gravity of the situation.

Political interference in technical and engineering departments should be stopped, and those with technical knowledge should be appointed as administrative secretaries in these departments.

The bottom line is that there is a serious governance crisis in the country; and there is need to ensure implementation of laws and flood commission reports as regards removal of encroachments and earmarking of funds well ahead of the monsoon season. This can only be done by posting officers with good reputation scrutinised by intelligence officials.

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