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Flooding in Pakistan: why now is the time for international generosity

This article also appeared on Reuters The Great Debate UK, under the heading Why Pakistan deserves generosity on August 25th 2010. 

Muhammad Atiq Ur Rehman TARIQ, Ph.D. Student, Delft University of Technology (

Nick van de Giesen, Professor Water Resources Management, Delft University of Technology (

 According to the latest official reports of the Federal Flood Commission of Pakistan, at least 1,556 people have died and more than 568,000 homes have been badly damaged or totally destroyed as a result of the recent floods in Pakistan. Almost 6.5 million people have been affected by this flooding and 3650 sq km of Pakistan’s most fertile crop land have been destroyed. The flooding hit 11,000 villages and cities. The situation is deteriorating in flooded areas, where waterborne diseases may increase the human death toll if measures are not taken in time.

The devastating flooding occurred at a moment at which Pakistan was still confronting the consequences of a severe drought. As such, the flood came as a complete surprise, especially in the province of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa where flash flooding occurred. The country had suffered severe droughts from 2000 to 2005 and had not faced any major flooding since 1995. Historically, most occurrences of severe flooding had been caused by the Indus River, which were largely checked after the construction of the Terbela dam in 1974. The present floods are atypical and their severity of floods was not anticipated by the inhabitants of the floodplains. Current flooding can be described as the worst in this area in at least 80 years.

The flooding has disrupted electricity supply through inundation of the Jinnah Hydro power plant and some other minor power plants. The flood has also damaged transmission lines, transformers, feeders and power houses in different flood-affected areas. People suffering the load-shedding of electricity outside the inundated area are protesting on the roads in different parts of the country. Floods have damaged highways and railroads, causing disruption of transportation and communication. Relief operations are being rolled out at a slow pace, as many towns and villages are not accessible and communications have been disrupted. The flood has destroyed much of the healthcare-infrastructure in the worst-affected areas. Outbreaks of diseases, such as gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and cholera due to lack of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation can pose a serious new risk to victims of flood. Survivors of flooding are already blocking highways to protest the lack of support being provided.

Lack of information on flooding in Pakistan exacerbates the impact. During this flooding event, the flood forecasting division of the Pakistan Meteorological Department has uploaded some GIS maps showing the area to be evacuated on their official website. In fact, these maps are not based on the present flood. Instead, they were developed for simulated floods occurring with a return periods of 5 and 50 years, whereas present flooding is much more severe and is caused by different mechanisms than historical floods. Misrepresentation by these flood maps may hide or modify the actual information and can be extremely counter-productive.

Aid coming from the international community is not sufficient. As remarked by UK relief organisation Oxfam, the lukewarm response of the international community is inexplicable. Possible reasons for this lack of support include the low regard that the Pakistani Government is held in by local and international communities. Instead, most support is channeled through NGOs and other institutions.

This reason can only be a partial explanation as the cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar in 2008 did trigger a large international response, while Myanmar’s government was internationally extremely unpopular and media coverage was scant at best.

While the national government has been slow to respond, banned militant groups and extremist organizations, such as the Taliban, are active with relief activities. This could have unwelcome implications in the medium to long-term. The flood will also divert Pakistani military forces from fighting the militants to help in the relief efforts. Clearly, this will allow militants to regroup and also help them secure more public support.

The flooding requires swift help and aid from national and international donors, otherwise it may produce large scale and lasting damage at national and international levels. The Taliban understand the strategy of ‘minds and hearts’ very well. This is the moment for the international community to show genuine compassion. In the process, it stands to win many hearts for generations to come.

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Just back from 4 weeks in pakistan…..cannot resist not to react.

The message to have a good and effective flood warning system iis fully supported and I guess with international cooperation (also between pakistan and india, a signifficant fraction of the flood water is derived from N-W India) a much better flood prediction would be possible.

The last two alineas are counterproductive. It is trying to raise funds based on peoples fears (almost like hostage taking). At the same time it is contributing to the general belief that Taliban and related groups form a main stream in Pakistan society, or are currently the main aids for the flood victims. Both are untrue.

I am really surprised to read this article especially the last part taliban helping flood hit area..One of my friend team worked in Swat n we dont have any trouble or taliban working over there…? I am sorry to say but both the writers should visit before writing such ariticle…

It is realy appreciable effort of collecting on ground facts of devastating flood in Pakistan. Most shocking thing to read is 4th paragraph of the article, if it is true then I would realy request Author to expose this big blunder at Government level in Pakistan through media or any other source.
I can imagine that this flood is larger than 5 and 50 years of return period, if this thing is conveyed to the resposible authorities in Pakistan then they can revise the strategy of evacuating populated areas in better and effective way.

It is understandable if the international community is wary of Pakistan’s government or militant groups. But it does not justify ignoring the millions who are neither part of the goverment, nor of any terrorist group.
As stated in the article, this will only breed sympathy for extremist groups who are involved with relief work.

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