Pakistan: Responding to disaster with partnership

Asian Development Bank

In 2010, Pakistan experienced the worst flooding in its history. An estimated 100,000 square kilometers and 20 million people were affected—or about a tenth of the country’s entire population. More than 1,800 people lost their lives.

“It was one of the most horrific scenes I have ever experienced,” recalls Mohammad Sajjad, a 30-year-old farmer in Dirsari village, near Naran, a popular summer resort valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which was one of the first places to be struck by the floods. “The river kept swelling until it started to swallow homes near the bank and wash away the roads.”

The cataclysmic flooding had broad impact across society and the economy. Basic transport and irrigation facilities were badly damaged in 80 of the country’s 110 districts across Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh provinces. Immediate repairs were needed to 793 km, or 7%, of the nation’s highways. Breaches in the flood embankments along the Indus River led to the flooding of 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land and damaged 1,925 km of provincial roads in Sindh Province. The cost to repair the damage done to the irrigation and transport sectors was estimated at $3.3 billion.

Taking stock

As soon as the floods receded, the government worked to restore housing, basic services, and livelihoods. To get a longer-range perspective, ADB and the World Bank prepared a damage and needs assessment in coordination with national and provincial government agencies.

“The idea was to build back smarter, but the scale of the devastation was so immense that the government was grappling with difficult questions,” says Shaukat Shafi, the staff member at ADB’s Pakistan office who worked on the assessment. He notes that the damage assessed was so immense that there was no way the government could finance the reconstruction needs without help.

ADB responded to the crisis with the Flood Emergency Reconstruction Project, which included a $4 million technical assistance grant to meet urgent needs and a $650 million emergency loan to address long-term reconstruction needs. The project helped fund the reconstruction of damaged roads, flood embankments, canals, and drains.

Roads and happy farmers

The downstream Thatta District is located in the southern part of Sindh Province where the Indus River flows into the Arabian Sea. The largely poor and agricultural district suffered the most as the water traveled down to inundate its towns and farming area.

But roads and embankments built under the project have helped bring life back to normalcy in this tormented southern part of the country. “Before the floods, the road from Thatta to Sujawal and onward to Jati was dilapidated and pockmarked with potholes and the floods made it worse,” remembers 60-year-old Mohammad Aachr, a truck driver who has been plying this stretch for 20 years.

“The journey used to take us between 8 and 9 hours and the potholes used to break the axles of our trucks frequently, costing me personal fortunes. But now the Thatta–Jati route is just a breezy 1-hour drive.”

On the other hand, the strengthening and upgrading of the sprawling Shahbandar–Molchand Bund on the left bank of the Indus River means farmers can now sleep without the fear of water inundating their farmland and homes.

Building resilience

The project restored 41.2 billion cubic meters of canal carrying capacity. It rehabilitated, reconstructed, and strengthened 103 flood embankments measuring more than 1,400 km in length. Improvements were also made to the effectiveness and performance of government agencies handling financial management, procurement, and social safeguards.

An assessment of the project by ADB found that the reconstructed flood embankments protected social and economic assets in the flood-affected areas of Sindh Province. In the transport sector, the project supported the repair of 3 bridges and 920 km of provincial roads. As a result, truck traffic on the repaired sections increased by an average of 141%.

Repairing a lifeline

For Mohammad Sajjad, a farmer in Dirsari village, one of the worst aspects of the flooding was the damage done to the Naran road, which leads to a popular tourist resort valley in the western Himalayas and is used by farmers to get their goods to market. “For my family, transporting our potatoes and turnips to Mansehra and Islamabad is how we make money to buy fuel and supplies to survive the harsh winter,” says Sajjad.

After the road was repaired as part of the ADB-supported project, access to the market was not only restored but travel time was almost halved by the better-quality road.

From disaster to resilience

In Pakistan, ADB has built on post-flood and post-earthquake reconstruction lessons to establish, in coordination with partners and the national government, Pakistan’s first disaster risk management fund. The National Disaster Risk Management Fund is boosting the country’s disaster preparedness and reducing socioeconomic and fiscal vulnerability to natural hazards.

“ADB came up with this idea of establishing the fund. It is providing a platform not only for the Government of Pakistan and provincial governments, but also for other development partners who want to invest,” says Nadeem Ahmed, the fund’s chief executive officer.

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