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.