About three weeks ago, Pakistan was hit by a natural catastrophe whose magnitude dwarfs the devastating 2005 earthquake in the country’s northern areas. In fact the number of people affected by these floods is estimated to be more than the number of people impacted by both the tsunami and the Haiti earthquake.

Floods are a part of the history of India and Pakistan, and the Monsoon season in this region has always been heavy and unpredictable. However, most years, the clouds that rise from the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal do follow somewhat of a pattern. The latter, in particular, usually take a northwestern route, passing over the entire subcontinent from the eastern plains to the mountains in the North West, distributing rain fairly evenly across their path.

This summer, due to historically high temperatures, the clouds carried much more water than expected. In addition, this time, due to low pressure systems in the region, the clouds arising from the Bay of Bengal disgorged the bulk of their water content in heavy quantities in Pakistan’s mountainous north. This resulted in flash floods as the water made its way down through uncountable ravines and gorges which join the Indus and its major tributaries before flowing down through the KP province and Punjab to Sindh. The Arabian Sea monsoon system, taking a more northerly path and disgorging in the Suleiman ranges, led to flash floods in Baluchistan. The resulting waters flowed into southern Punjab and Sindh.

Image source: Oxfam.org.uk

The worst hit by far as been the KP (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) Province, who faced this catastrophe first with no idea of what lay in store. Sindh, on the other hand, had some time to prepare its people before the water from the mountains engulfed the delta. While this warning did help somewhat with the logistics of evacuation, it has not of course stopped the incessant rains and the fact that barrages in the area are now facing unprecedented water flows they are simply not equipped to deal with. The Guddu and Sukkur barrages have had to face flows of 1.148 million cusecs and 1.115 million cusecs respectively and this water passed through Kotri barrage on the 12-13th of August. Kotri barrage was designed to discharge 875,000 cusecs; the highest flow it has been faced with to date was 981,000 cusecs in 1956.

Meanwhile, rains continue in other parts of Pakistan as well. Almost a quarter of the total area of the country has been ravaged in these past three weeks. The number of people affected has been estimated at about 20 million. However, this figure is far from final, as rains continue in parts of the country. Moreover, since statistics are seldom collected from a large part of Pakistan’s rural and otherwise inaccessible areas, a glance at the map of the affected areas – all of which have a high population concentration – leads one to believe that this figure is conservative, at best.

The people affected include many who may have survived and in fact not even lost their loved ones, but whose houses, crops, cities, shops and investments have been washed away. There are numerous news stories about people who are alive but only with their very young children, the clothes on their back and a paltry few hundred rupees in their pockets. Hundreds of thousands of houses in the rural areas, mostly mud houses, have been totally washed away. Millions of acres of standing crops have been destroyed. Hundreds of miles of major roads and railway have been submerged in water resulting in virtual isolation. This disconnect, in turn, has led to food and fuel shortage in parts of the country, especially Peshawar, the capital of the KP province.

Thousands of schools have been a casualty of the flooding and the education system is in jeopardy. The KP government alone has announced that so far they have enumerated 400 schools which cannot be reopened.

A health-care crisis has also been caused, as thousands of small town and rural dispensaries and hospitals were submerged and patients barely managed to evacuate. This has brought health services to a virtual standstill in the flood affected regions. Courts and government offices have stopped functioning in innumerable areas and even though figures are still pouring in, there is as yet no total tally available. All that is known is that approximately a quarter of the country has been almost completely inundated. The many and disastrous implications of this one fact would take pages and pages to enumerate.

Despite the nightmare they have already caused, the floods are not yet over because the monsoons continue and can continue until the end of August.

As a country, we never had sufficient resources to deal with a catastrophe of this dimension. It has been reported that we did not have even 2% of the required number of boats needed for evacuation purposes. Even after the army brought all their helicopters, we still did not have as many as were needed for the relief effort in KP alone.

There have been numerous and continuing reports of helicopters being grounded due to inclement weather, of boats men not wanting to ply because the waters were too rough and even reports of boats drowning.  Figures from the KP province alone suggest that in that region over a 1000 people have died and many hundreds of thousands rendered homeless or marooned.

According to the Meteorological office, such floods and heavy rains have not taken place in over a century, and reliable records before that are not available. With such a large catastrophe, and such meager resources, it is but natural that a certain amount of chaos should result. Part of this chaos is the leveling of charges and the discovery of many misdemeanors and large scale corruptions which people say have added to the destruction. It is alleged that affairs at the Guddu Barrage on the Indus were mishandled, resulting in a far more disastrous flooding in southern Punjab and northern Sindh than would have otherwise been the case. Additionally, it has been discovered that at this pivotal point in time, ten gates of the Taunsa barrage are not working due to a digital malfunction.

Image source: Oxfam.org.uk

Many power generation companies have stopped working due to a water breach into their facilities. Among them are KAPCO (Kot Addu Power Company), the Lal Pir Thermal Power plant and PakGen Power Plant. An oil refinery in the Gujrat Qasba area has shut down completely and PSO’s (Pakistan State Oil) main oil depot in Mehmood Kot has stopped supplying to the entire northern region of the country while its work force has been evacuated from the warehouse.

It is hard to foresee what the consequences of this power generation breakdown will be, in a country that was already suffering from a 30% power shortage. The implications of the suspension of oil, gas and food supplies to the entire country are going to be devastating, especially in the month Ramzan. Every minute, news comes in of more deaths, road inundations, bridges collapsing, thousands of acres of crops and houses being destroyed and gas, oil and electricity supplies being stopped; The UN has stated that it will take billions of dollars for Pakistan to recover from these floods. Needless to say we need money and we need it now. Many trusted organizations are carrying out relief efforts throughout the country. I think it is the need of the hour that we all contribute, in whatever way we can, to help rebuild the lives of those who have lost all they had.

Organizations supporting flood relief work in Pakistan:

UNICEF-USA: https://secure.unicefusa.org/site/Donation2?idb=784883377&df_id=1661&1661.donation=form1&JServSessionIdr010=vmk328n351.app17b

Save the Children – New Zealand: https://secure.flo2cash.co.nz/donations/savethechildren/donate.aspx

Oxfam: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/donate/pakistan-floods/index.php