Climate change vs Governance

Above all else, the flooding disaster to hit Pakistan is about climate change

With one third of Pakistan submerged as a result of the floods, it is hard to figure out what type of “governance” could have prevented this disaster. Those pointing out that the problem with the unusually massive rainfall and the resultant flooding in the country is primarily a “governance” problem need to first take stock of things before running too far with this argument. Of course, superior governance – such as improved forecasting, faster response times at the local level, better zoning restrictions along floodwater evacuation channels and other such measures – could have reduced the number of people impacted and perhaps, mitigated some of the damage caused by the floodwaters. But this argument should not be allowed to overshadow the more massive truth here; that the rains were so intense, and the quantity of water they dropped on the country so massive, that no amount of superior governance could have mitigated the disaster in any significant way.

How do you plan for a 100-kilometre wide inland lake that has opened up in Sindh as the flood waters roared down the Indus? The lake has been pictured by NASA’s MODIS satellite and the image carried by major international media and beamed around the world. Millions of people live in the area that the lake has now covered. The city of Dadu alone is home to an estimated 1.5 million people if you include the rural areas around it, and it is currently under eight feet of water as per news reports. What kind of zoning regulations would have saved this area from the devastation? What kind of infrastructure would have prevented the floodwaters from reaching this catastrophic level? Do people who are advancing the “governance” argument seriously think that Pakistan should evacuate entire cities as part of a flood mitigation plan? Or should the government try to wall up the entire Indus river so it can carry over a million cusecs of water without breaching any embankments?

It is true that superior governance could have played a role in mitigating some of the damage, but this would have been on the margins only. How much lower would the floodwater deluge in Dadu be with superior governance? Perhaps, instead of being eight feet underwater, it would have been only seven feet? Given superior governance, perhaps, instead of one third of the country being flooded, this would have been 29%? Or 25%? Maybe residents in Swat would have received an alert about a possible flood 48 hours ahead of time instead of one hour, but by how much would the devastation have been reduced? If illegal construction had not been allowed close to the river it would undoubtedly have reduced some of the devastation. But images from places like Bahrain in Swat show devastation in the main bazaar that make the place look like a war zone. Of course superior governance could have mitigated some of the damage. But the scale of the disaster would still have been massive.

Let us all be very clear in assessing what has just happened in Pakistan. The country has been hit by a climate-related catastrophe so massive that even the best run country would struggle in dealing with it. We must ask our rulers to take climate change more seriously and do more to build resilience in our country. But that will not solve the problem. It will only reduce its impact by a little bit. Above all else, this is about climate change.

Khurram Husain
Khurram Husain
The author is Editor at Profit and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. There should be climate reparation program from developed country to mitigate the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment of less developed countries. As they have forget the impact of their industrilisation on environment, they should repay the loss done on devastation or catastrope on less developed country suffering from flood torrential rainful.

  2. Isn’t it interesting that despite our nation facing a plethora of existential crisis as highlighted in this editorial the mainstream media and talk shows are being held hostage to the question: who would ascend to the throne in November? What repercussions it will have and who would be the beneficiaries?

    True that a state’s stability takes priority and is directly linked to a stable economy. Yet as a nation in order to evolve we need to legislate away this fault line that has plagued us for 75 years. Politicians and democrats need to listen to each other instead of gaming as this elephant in the room is not going to go away by ignoring it.

    Asad Durrani in TFT has analysed this problem and proposed a solution that would strengthen the institution while allowing democratic institutions to prosper. Simply said it’s about creating a balance between 4 star generals’ constitutional roles. COAS to be the supreme commander of armed forces while CJCSC to advise and oversee internal affairs.

    Sort this out please so that we can get back to improving economy, dealing with disasters, alleviating poverty and educating our nation.

  3. please don’t try to shift all damages on climate change & who would buy the rhetoric of 1% contribution in green house gasses. World knows very well the Indus basin area, its river transboundary eastern & western tributaries. how the neighbouring countries are taking care needs to be learnt. No doubt, we can’t eliminate climate vulnerabilities but we need to take adaptation & mitigation measures to contain the damages.
    There are world standards to store & divert annual flows of rivers & we are quite short of these targets & only store around 10% of annual flows. Irony is that we are not able to produce sustainable & low cost hydro electricity by storing river waters & irrigating more areas thru off taking canals. I think we need to look into this
    very seriously by developing infrastructures by adopting short / medium & long term measures rather than escaping from our responsibilities under climate change.

  4. Dear Khurram sahib

    Million dollar question awaits how did Bajwa impact on our economy via his bullying and political engineering. Dar is now in Pakistan and may spill the beans behind Dar and the General. The point where economic turmoil got derailed due to project Imran. He is still a bit twitchy but does say the truth when emotional. An in depth expose’ awaits.

  5. with one of the largest irrigation systems connected to one of the largest rivers in the world, plenty of damage could have been avoided; let’s say 3 feet instead of eight.
    in the event, waters were diverted for political reasons, and any investment is likely to be political first and efficacious after.
    forty years of babu governance … has made the problem this intractable.


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