ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Pakistan's Flood

The floods in Pakistan may have political consequences which will compound the natural tragedy.

It is already clear that the floods sweeping across Pakistan are among the worst natural disasters of this decade, anywhere in the world. Already, an estimated 16 to 20 million people have been affected by the floods, four million of them losing their homes to the massive waters. People have lost their belongings, stored food and seeds, standing crops and cattle. Though relatively few people have been killed as an immediate result of these floods, it is now obvious that a combination of disease and hunger will kill many, many more. United Nations estimates say that close to three billion children are under severe threat of disease and mortality. Even with the traditional economic calculations, the cost of this flood is estimated to cross $20 billion at the least, more than 12% of Pakistan’s gross domestic product. Almost a fifth of Pakistan’s agriculture has been destroyed, apart from roads, electricity distribution networks and other infrastructure. The floods have not merely inundated the lowlands along the banks of the Indus river, they have also submerged many of the habitations along the tributaries of the Indus from both Kashmir as well as Afghanistan.

This is estimated to be the largest flood which has occurred in the Indus basin since 1929. Apart from the heavy concentration of rain in a few weeks at the end of July and the beginning of August (which also caused the floods in Ladakh), three reasons have been given for the severity of the floods. One has been the steady deforestation in the catchment area of the Indus basin. This has substantially degraded the ability of the natural environment to a bsorb sudden spikes in rainfall. The other has been the building of embankments in the Indus and on its tributaries. Given the amount of silt that the Himalayan rivers carry, embankments merely lead to the raising of the riverbed, which then need further embankment work to prevent flooding. Eventually it leads to a situation where the riverbed runs higher than the flood plain, making it impossible for the river system to drain excess water out to the sea and instead push flood waters into lowlands along the riverbanks. Lastly, over the past decades, human habitation has encroached into the lowlands, which had served as natural sponges for flood waters, while also blocking natural drainages of water by the construction of ill-designed roads, rail-tracks and other large infrastructure.

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