Pakistan’s new plan to embrace floods

The scenes have become all too familiar: submerged crops; army helicopters dropping food rations; volunteers and soldiers wading through knee-deep water carrying the old and the frail; embankments filled with men, women, children and livestock.

These images have been etched on the collective memory of Pakistanis since the 2010 mega Indus floods deluged a fifth of the country, affecting 21 million people. But today such scenes fail to stir the nation’s compassion. Since then Pakistan has faced deluges every year.

Experts say the intensity and frequency of flood in Pakistan will only increase.

“It’s a whole new ball game and climate trend lines can no longer be followed,” said Pervaiz Amir, a water expert and former member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change. “Rains have become more intense and fall in a shorter period,” and warmer temperatures are leading to faster melting of the Himalayan glaciers,compounding the risks of flooding.

An estimated 715,000 people in Pakistan are affected by floods each year resulting an annual loss of almost 1% to the country’s GDP, which translates into US$2.7 billion. In what is a cascading effect, as many as 2.7 million people could be affected annually by river-floods in Pakistan by 2030, according to the World Resources Institute.

Living with floods

But floods do not have to result in death and destruction, argues Syed Mahmud Nasir, Inspector General of Forests at the Ministry of Climate Change: “If only we can see it as an opportunity and learn to adapt to the annual floods instead of controlling them.”

Protecting forests and natural resources can significantly reduce flood risks, he says. This means developing new laws and implementing existing ones to protect the environment, along with strengthening flood early warning system and restricting development in floodplain zones.

Such measures have been missing from Pakistan’s flood management strategy so far.

At first, Nasir’s new approach to floods was met with incredulity by most legislators: “I was simply told this was beyond their comprehension that I was welcoming floods,” he told

But now that Pakistan’s government is drafting its fourth national flood prevention plan, things may be set to change.

Lessons from the past

Three years back, in 2012, the climate change ministry invited the Ramsar Advisory Mission (RAM), a group of experts under the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands, to visit the Indus River in Pakistan and submitted a report suggesting a cost effective strategy to use flood water wisely and identify wetlands for restoration.

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