Reported by Sarah Sawyer, ELP Alumni Network Coordinator
In August, 2010 Pakistan was ravaged by what is being described as one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history. ELP alumnus Zabardast Khan Bangash, IUCN-Pakistan manager of the Balochistan Programme, reports that the flooding has claimed about 2,000 lives and is estimated to be affecting over 20 million people. ELP alumnus Nazima Shaheen, Research Associate with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) writes: “This slow tsunami has adversely impacted every sphere of people’s lives ranging from the loss of their dear ones, livestock, cultivated land, crops to stored grains, etc.” In a country where agriculture employs the majority of the population and contributes greatly to the national economy, damage to farms and livestock has been particularly devastating. Up to 8 million people may be left hungry by this disaster, and Shaheen notes that besides the difficulty of accessing many remote areas suffering the worst agricultural losses, the finances to meet the increasing demand for food, water and healthcare for flood affectees is a huge challenge, both for the government and humanitarian organizations.
The impacts of these disastrous floods will not only be felt by the human population, but also the environment that they and future generations rely on. ELP alumnus Tahir Rasheed, Sustainable Use Specialist Group’s Habitat & Species Conservation Project Manager, notes that “experience from other calamities suggests that post-disaster pressure on the environment may have more severe impacts than the direct impacts of the disaster itself. Waste and debris generated in the form of landslides, damaged buildings and other infrastructure, human waste, medical waste, stagnated & contaminated water and other hazardous materials will have serious negative impacts on the environment at large.” Many ELP alums currently contribute to recovery and rehabilitation after disasters like the Pakistan floods, as well as to prevention and mitigation of such extreme events throughout the world.
While unusually heavy monsoon rainfall may have been a main proximate cause of the flooding, Zabardast writes that “climate change, lack of storage dams and deforestation” also contributed to this perfect storm. He points to the actions of the so-called “timber mafia” as a major catalyst of the devastating floods, culminating in the flooding of about one-fifth of the entire country. Deforestation and tree smuggling by the timber mafia, goes largely unchecked and has been blamed for “disturbing the delicate balance in the eco-system”. Climate Change has likely contributed to the magnitude of this terrible disaster as well. Rasheed notes that the August 2010 flooding bears witness to the warnings of climate scientists around the world. He writes: “The Pakistan floods endorsed the IPCC predictions… that variability and extremes, not simply average changes in climatic conditions, are key features that affect human vulnerability”.
Rasheed also warns that the rehabilitation process itself runs the risk of further environmental deterioration and a positive feedback loop that will increase future flooding risk:
During rehabilitation phase, a direct pressure will be witnessed in Pakistan on vegetation cover, timber and associated flora for reconstructing houses and fulfilling energy needs. This will magnify already unsustainable degradation and exploitation of natural resources, in particular vegetation cover, which will, unless properly managed, further increase vulnerability to landslides of slopes already destabilized by deforestation and grazing. These pressures will also impact associated species, livelihoods, human health, and other environmental factors key to human well-being [e.g. water contamination].
Pakistan faces many challenges in its recovery. Shaheen writes that “Pakistan has to now focus on the rehabilitation process. The rebuilding of the entire infrastructure including the irrigation channels, communication systems, schools, and hospitals, in addition to accommodation of displaced persons is a major challenge ahead. This whole process needs the comprehensive planning and policy measures, which apparently have various missing links.” The UN is asking for US$460 million to fund short term emergency response, and much more money and support will be needed for long term reconstruction. The British High Commission in Pakistan reports that “the rebuilding of Pakistan could exceed US$10-15 billion, and take up to 5 years” (Zabardast Khan). But, the best way to prevent further disasters remains in question.
Environmental sustainability must play a major role in rehabilitation planning. “Plans and projects for rehabilitation and reconstruction should be strategically assessed to understand their individual as well as cumulative environmental impacts in order to take decision on mitigation. To achieve this goal, urgent capacity building support and technical assistance on rapid project environmental screening procedures needs to be provided to the concerned institutions to review and implement all reconstruction plans and projects accordingly” (Tahir Rasheed).
Expert advice will also play a major role in planning. ELP alumnus Nazima Shaheen is organizing a panel to discuss possible ways forward. The panel, “Floods and Disaster Preparedness in Pakistan: Regional Solution to National Problems” will take place at SDPI 13th international Sustainable Development Conference on “Peace and Sustainable Development in South Asia: The way Forward”, from December 21-23, 2010. “The panel will discuss the possible short, medium and long term strategies for reducing the impacts of natural calamities in the region focusing on prepositions to foster regional collaboration and cooperation to cope with disasters and to reduce the vulnerabilities among masses. The panel will also discuss the indigenous and community based solutions to enhance resilience at the local level against natural calamities and floods. The output of the panel will be policy recommendations (based on regional experiences) for flood protection and preparedness both for the government as well as local communities.” Clearly, the next few months will be key in Pakistan’s eventual recovery and rehabilitation.
Ways in which you can help:
On-line donations to international NGOs
• Oxfam, Save the Children, ICRC, MSF, Muslim Aid, Islamic Relief, Actionaid, Care etc.
On-line donations to local NGOs in Pakistan
• Citizen’s foundation www.thecitizensfoundation.org
• Edhi Foundation http://www.edhifoundation.com
• SoS Children’s Village http://www.sos.org.pk/
• Thardeep Rural Dev Programme www.thardeep.org
• Imran Khan Flood Relief Fund www.ptiuk.org/flood-appeal
• Syed Talat Hussain/ Kashif Abbasi flood relief fund http://www.aaj.tv/donations
• Indus Resource Center http://www.irc-pakistan.com
• Pakistan Insaf Welfare Trust http://www.piwt.org