Islamabad - Pakistan’s next monsoon season is still months away, but after the deadly floods last year aid workers and experts are warning that adequate preparedness is still lacking.
“Now is the time to build up Pakistan's resilience to disaster,” said Neva Khan, director of NGO Oxfam in Pakistan. “The cost of implementing safeguards pales in comparison to the damage to lives and property [that could be caused by the monsoon].”
The monsoon season usually runs from July till September. Last year, more than 20 million people in 78 districts were affected by the worst floods in living memory: Some 2.4 million hectares of standing crops and about a third of the rice planted that year were destroyed; paddy yields dropped by 38 percent on the previous year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Many of those affected are yet to fully recover. In Sindh Province, for example, 80,000 displaced people are still living in camps and spontaneous settlements, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“I still do not have a properly built house; it was very difficult through the winter and now I am worried about rains later this year,” Muhammad Khan, a farmer, told IRIN from his village in Charsadda District in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KPK).
Efforts to help those affected by the floods are continuing. For example, over 2.5 million people have benefited from the construction of almost 63,700 latrines. Over 921,000 families have received hygiene kits, and 6.6 million individuals have been reached with hygiene promotion activities, OCHA reported on 3 March.
The plight of people in areas where rain triggers flash floods and landslides has highlighted the need for disaster preparedness, according to the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, Margareta Wahlström.
Pakistan, which according to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) is at continued risk of both man-made and natural disasters, lost an estimated US$8.74-10.85 billion - about a third of its 2009-2010 budget, to the July floods.
Small investment could reduce losses
Yet the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank estimate that an investment of only $27 million in disaster risk reduction mechanisms could greatly reduce losses from future disasters.
Speaking at the end of a visit to Pakistan on 22 February, Wahlström said there was a clear need to “build resilience to future floods, just as Pakistan embarks on the reconstruction of flood-affected areas following the devastating floods of July 2010.”
Local observers say there is limited evidence that this lesson has been learnt. For example, many of the houses hastily reconstructed by victims are built on the same lines as those washed away earlier.
Local residents in areas such as Swat Valley in KPK, where roads and bridges were badly damaged, claimed the same holds true for infrastructure.
“The thing is we built many of the roads ourselves, with some help from military personnel, after the floods, using what materials were available. We needed the roads to move relief supplies to villages, and couldn’t afford to wait for the government to take action,” said Abdul Sulaiman, from the town of Kabal in Swat.
In February, relatively light rain damaged around 100 houses in the southwestern province of Balochistan, including the capital Quetta.
“Many people have been left without a roof over their heads,” Commissioner for Quetta Division Naseem Ahmed Lehri told the media at the time.
Asked for a comment, Ahmed Kamal, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority, told IRIN the government’s Planning Commission was “undertaking post-flood reconstruction”. The policy was to “build back better” by putting in place disaster-resistant housing and other structures, he said.