Flood management in Punjab: But what next? – by Qudrat Ullah

Punjab, the land of mighty rivers and flowing canals, witnessed many big deluges which caused losses to the tune of billion of rupees, besides damaging lives and property of the public. Although the flood management is the responsibility of the provinces, yet a number of federal departments are entrusted with the Federal Flood Commission, which is acting as a coordinating body with the provincial departments and technical agencies to help control the floods. Actually, up to the end of 1976, the provincial governments were responsible for planning and execution of flood protection works but the disastrous floods of 1973and 1976 resulted in heavy losses, indicating that the protection facilities and planning at that time were inadequate to cope with the great deluges.

Therefore, the Federal Flood Commission was established in January 1977. This is the principal institution for flood planning and control in Pakistan. Its mandate includes the preparation of the National Flood Protection Plans, approval of flood control schemes, review of flood damages, plans for reconstruction works, improvements in flood forecasting and warning system, monitoring and evaluation etc.

In the province of Punjab, Irrigation and Power department, Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority (PIDA), Crises and Relief Department and Civil Defence Organizations are mainly responsible to take necessary measures in mitigating the floods. Meanwhile, Pakistan Army also provides skilled manpower and the technical support in times of need. In addition, Health, Agriculture, Livestock, Food and Communication & Works Departments also play their role in flood management in consultation with the district administration.

According to the flood data of the last 62 years, the country suffered cumulative financial losses of more than Rs. 385 billion (6 billion dollars) on account of 15 major floods. Besides that, more than 7,800 precious lives were lost in addition to dislocation of millions of people during the floods.

There are multiple reasons which cause the floods to occur, like floods in rivers are caused by heavy concentrated monsoon rains, flash floods result due to cloud bursts and hill torrents in Southern Punjab. In Punjab, most flood prone districts include Mianwali, Bhakkar, Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan, D.G. Khan, Rajanpur, Jhelum, Khushab, Jhang, Sargodha, Kasur, Bahawalnagar, Pakpattan, Bahawalpur, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad, T.T. Singh, Khanewal and Lahore.

Flood disaster management policy of the Punjab government is aimed to achieve the objectives of Public safety, protection of life and property of people and security of vital infrastructures like canals, rail lines and offices etc. The provincial Government is committed to bring improvement in watershed and river management practices. Espousal of community participation approach for effective flood preparedness, fighting and rehabilitation is equally important.

Improved flood forecasting system has been developed and reliable interaction between all related flood control and relief agencies is ensured. The Punjab Relief Department, set up in the year 1975 as an independent organization, deals with measures to mitigate natural calamities such as floods, famine, war, fire and earthquake etc. The governing Act is the Punjab National Calamities (Prevention and Relief) Act, 1958. This department organizes rescue operations with the help of army; provide adequate resource support to district governments through co-ordination with provincial government departments/ agencies, ensure provision of necessary budgetary allocations to the district governments for relief work, oversee the working of district governments in the implementation of relief measures, obtain field reports of losses and apprise the provincial /federal governments and assess & evaluate losses and suggest to the provincial government for provision of relief to the affected persons.

Before the commencement of rainy/flood season, all the District Coordination Officers are asked to prepare Evacuation Plans for the places declared vulnerable and the evacuation to take place between the time gap of early warning and influx of actual disaster without exposing the population to any hazard.

Actually, flood management in the Indus Basin is a multi-dimensional process that demands intensive resources and require efficient coordination between various government agencies. However, even advanced flood management systems are no guarantee against flood disasters as has often been proved in the more developed countries like in the case of hurricane Katrina in USA. Tsunami is another particular case for study and Punjab being an agricultural economy, can ill afford to risk its agricultural infrastructure consisting of dams, barrages and irrigation canals, which can be under severe stress in major flood events.

Various water experts maintain that the flood management policy of Punjab is more reactive than proactive in dealing with the flood issues. However, with the preparation of National Water Policy, the flood situation is likely to change with far reaching effects on the flood management process. National Policy provides necessary legal and institutional framework to improve the flood management process.

Although the Water Policy provides the necessary guidelines for flood management, yet there is a need for a separate policy for flood management to deal specifically with the flood issues. Such a policy may outline the details of policy framework for flood management. It is worth noting here that a new paradigm in flood management that considers floods as a resource rather than a natural threat can be highly helpful in achieving the environmental objectives of the government, which are set under various international conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory.

It is envisaged that the flood forecasting capabilities would be improved considerably under the second Flood Protection Sector Project being undertaken by the Federal Flood Commission. The task of quantification of flood risks through detailed studies and subsequent measures required in minimizing the risk should be taken on priority basis.

And in the end, we must not forget that Pakistan, being the downstream user of the rivers and also embroiled in political conflicts with the upper riparian state of India, needed to be particularly cautious about its flood management system, as India has successfully developed several structures like Bhakra Nagal Dam on Sutlej, Pong Dam on Beas and Thein Dam on Ravi, that have further augmented its potential to relocate flood surges to Pakistan.

This threat happened many times in the past as India’s water policy is aimed at converting Pakistan into a waterless country with no agriculture to feed the 170 million people. We can withstand this Indian water policy blitz through the development of new water reservoirs including the construction of Kalabagh Dam in Punjab. And this is the only option left.

Email: qudratulla@gmail.com



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