Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Flood 2014 – Some Lessons from 2010

by Haris Gazdar
Flooding in Punjab Province, Pakistan from 2010. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

On 6th September the Flood Forecasting Division (FFD) of the Pakistan Meteorological  Department reported ‘Exceptionally High Flood” in Chenab at Khanki and Jhelum at Rasul.  Both rivers had already inundated large swathes of the floodplains and hundreds of villages by 8th September when the FFD issued warnings of a second peak over the coming 24 to 48 hours at Trimmu where these two flows meet.  Panjnad braces itself as I write and the Alipur and Jatoi tehsils of Muzaffargarh district which bore the brunt of the 2010 Indus flood in Punjab are under threat.  The command areas of Guddu, Sukkur and Kotri barrages – virtually all of the lower Indus floodplains in Sindh wait. It is already a big flood and is likely to get only bigger.

The first priority, of course, is prevention of major breaches in earthworks and embankments. But we know from past floods, and 2010 is still etched in many minds, that cruel choices will be made. Many will be self-serving ones.  It has already been reported that the Athara Hazari tehsil of Jhang will be sacrificed to save Jhang City.  Alipur and Jatoi might drown to save Panjnad headworks and districts to its east.   There will be active politics around these choices, and this time next week we will know.

It is really around the next steps – relief, rehabilitation and recovery - that the lessons from 2010 must be recalled with some urgency.  The Citizens’ Compensation Disbursement Card (CDCC) popularly known as the Watan Card, despite many problems, was a success story.  It acted as a major source of sustenance and early recovery after the initial relief supplies had dried up.  The idea of geographical targeting – that is, identifying flood affected administrative zones and providing compensation to ALL residents of those zones – worked well.  The organizational experience gained through the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), and the partnerships established with NADRA and commercial banks proved invaluable, as outlined in this article on social protection based on research conducted by the Collective for Social Science Research.

It is an obvious point, but does need to be made, that floods affected people differently according to their prior socio-economic status.  The Disaster Needs Assessment for the 2010 floods skimmed around the issue of land ownership and tenure.  The analysis of losses in the agricultural and housing sectors failed to take account of inequalities in land ownership and control, not only across classes but between men and women.  Recommendations correctly included debt relief to agriculturalists. But they failed to consider that farmers with formal credit were the well-off ones to begin with.  These richer farmers in turn acted as creditors to poor tenant farmers and labourers. The government and donors remained silent on whether the landless poor would also get debt relief.  For housing too it was assumed that land ownership was not a problem.

In a study for Oxfam Pakistan Collective researchers wrote:

“A key lesson learned from analysis of previous disasters is that humanitarian, as well as development responses, must be anchored in a rights-based framework, with explicit consideration for those who face inequality and were marginalized before the disaster. Such vulnerable groups need to be protected against the risk of dispossession as well as a return to unequal power relations. But despite these lessons, the policy direction of government and international development partners in regard to the post-floods response has so far paid little attention to land rights and vulnerability as a dimension of recovery.”

I wonder if, when the waters subside, those working on the 2014 floods will be writing something like this again.