by Judith Curry & Peter Webster
The flooding of the Indus River system in Pakistan during the summer and autumn of 2010 was a cataclysmic humanitarian disaster. The destruction wrought by the 2010 floods could set Pakistan back years or even decades, weaken its struggling civilian administration and add to the burdens on its military, distracting from their efforts to keep the Taliban in check.
The causes and humanitarian impacts were discussed on a previous thread . This thread focuses on the longer term impacts of the floods and how the floods have acted as a threat accelerant to an already unstable nation. The question of how improved weather forecast and climate scenario information might be used to reduce some of the threat accelerant components of natural disasters in Pakistan.
Continuing impacts of the flood
The fate of flood refugees – or ‘internally displaced people’ (IDPs) – has varied throughout the country. Rural areas – those that depend on agriculture – were those that were hardest hit by the floods. In the parts of Pakistan where the flood first hit – Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab – 95% of victims were able to return home by early November. However, during that same time period, 85% of the affected population in Sindh province remained unable to return to what remained of their homes.(Dixon and Shaffer 2010). Mines and artillery shells have been flushed downstream by the floods and scattered in low-lying areas, posing a future risk to returning inhabitants (cited by the Wikipedia).
With regards to infrastructure losses:
As of November 2010, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have estimated that infrastructure losses amounted to $9.7 billion. That said, costs to infrastructure should not be isolated to that infrastructure that was directly damaged or destroyed by the floods. Instead, infrastructure costs should be two-fold: indirect costs for the overuse of remaining infrastructure must also be taken into account. For example, many IDPs have moved – whether temporarily or permanently – to urban areas. This is putting great strains on existing public infrastructure – like drinking and waste water infrastructure and power generation and transmission facilities – in these areas, as these systems become overburdened by having to service significantly more individuals than in the past. The figure of $9.7 billion is therefore a considerable underestimate. (Dixon and Shaffer 2010).
Energy security. Floods shut down some electricity, oil, and gas facilities. According to various media reports, floods closed approximately 3 gigawatts of power generation capacity. (Pakistan’s maximum power generation capacity before the flood was around 19 gigawatts.) Flooding damaged generation facilities and transmission infrastructure, and it cut off power plants from their supply of generation fuels such as oil and natural gas. Output at refining and natural gas facilities also was curtailed due to transportation disruptions. Most of this energy production and transportation capacity has been restored. However, the damage has highlighted and exacerbated Pakistan’s pre-existing energy problems. Prior to the floods, the country was already suffering from a shortage of electricity generation capacity and rolling blackouts. The cost of recovering from flood damage sets back efforts to improve electricity supply. Among the challenges for rebuilding the infrastructure are prioritizing reconstruction actions; the availability of materials, equipment, and expertise; and mechanisms for oversight of construction and use of funds. (Kronstadt et al. 2010)
Food Security: Prior to the recent flooding, poverty and hunger in Pakistan were widespread and especially prevalent in rural areas. Nearly two-thirds of the population and 80% of the country’s poor (about 35 million people) live in rural parts of the country. Even before the flooding, FAO had estimated that about 60 million people were food-insecure in Pakistan, which accounts for about half of the country’s population. The recent global food price and economic crises of 2008-2009 exacerbated poverty and food security issues in Pakistan. FAO estimated that an additional 17 million people became food-insecure as a result of food price inflation in Pakistan over the past few years, and that the poorest households are now spending more than 70% of their incomes on food. While the full extent of damage from the summer 2010 flooding has not yet been fully quantified, the direct and future losses are likely to impact national production of staple crops, such as wheat and rice, and affect the food security of millions of people. (Kronstadt et al. 2010)
Agriculture. The affected populations have suffered severe crop, livestock, and grain stock losses. While the floods are causing severe negative effects on agricultural production in the current season, the damage and impacts will likely have broader implications for future agricultural production and food security in Pakistan. Wheat is an example of this issue. Wheat is the main staple in Pakistan, providing about 35% of the average per capita calorie requirement in 2008. Wheat is mainly irrigated and contributes approximately two-thirds of the annual national cereal production. It is cultivated primarily during the Rabi season, when it is typically planted in October/November and harvested in April/May. Official final estimates of wheat production from the 2009/2010 Rabi season, which was successfully harvested prior to the flood, were close to 23.9 million tonnes, a near record amount. (Kronstadt et al. 2010). The harvest for winter 2010/2011 is questionable, owing non-availability of water owing to damage to the irrigation network, continued inundation of agricultural land, loss of seeds for planting and agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, and massive migration of farmers due to floods.
Livestock. The floods have affected the most densely populated livestock areas in Pakistan, decimating the livestock in some regions. Many animals died because they had to be left behind when people were rescued by the Pakistani military and other rescue services. FAO stated that “millions of surviving animals are now facing severe feed shortages, threatening generations of Pakistan’s livestock,” and that one of its primary priorities is maintaining and keeping healthy the surviving population of livestock. Getting feed and veterinary services to those in need continues to be a major challenge as supplies of animal feed such as straw and forage is in limited supply, and transportation of goods and services is severely limited due to considerable damage to critical infrastructure. (Kronstadt et al. 2010).
U.S. Humanitarian Aid. The United States is the largest donor of funding for relief efforts related to the flooding in Pakistan. Some funds are being converted from a portion of the civilian economic development assistance authorized by the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009. To date, the United States is providing a total of $561.9 million for Pakistan relief and recovery, largely coming from International Disaster Assistance (IDA) and Food For Peace (FFP) funds. In-kind civilian and military support, such as the pre-fabricated steel bridges, halal meals, and air transport, amounts to another $89.1 million, according to USAID. (Kronstadt et al. 2010)
International Humanitarian Aid. China claims it was the first to contribute aid to the flood victims and has provided about $47.0 million.14 The European Union has provided a total of about $450.9 million of cash and in-kind aid, including about $210.4 million from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department and sums from more than 20 countries. For example, Germany about $47.0 million cash and in-kind, Denmark about $24.4 million, Sweden about $25.5 million, Norway about $66.0 million, the United Kingdom about $209.0 million, and France about $4.3 million.15 As of September 8, 2010, Japan has provided a total of $25.6 million in cash and relief commodities.16 As of the end of August 2010, Australia has provided $75 million and Canada has pledged about $52 million U.S. dollars with an additional $1.4 million from a Canadian humanitarian coalition.17 India also has provided $5 million of aid and is offering more, although receiving aid from India is controversial in Pakistan. (Kronstedt et al. 2010)
A summary of security concerns regarding Pakistan is provided by Kronstedt et al. (2010):
Pakistan is at the center of several crucial [global security issues], including fighting terrorism and religious militancy, seeking stability in neighboring Afghanistan, and promoting nuclear non-proliferation, among others. . . [I]nterests in countering Islamist militancy in the region and strengthening Pakistan’s democratic institutions are under greater threat due to the chaos and destruction caused by widespread flooding there. . . The aftermath of the floods . . . may undermine the already waning legitimacy of the civilian government by demonstrating its ineffectiveness to large numbers of Pakistanis in need of public services, while improving the status of Pakistan’s powerful military by the more visible role it played in providing disaster relief. It may also provide militants an opportunity to garner favor with affected communities by giving militants an opportunity to demonstrate that they can provide assistance in areas where the government is absent. The crisis has also diverted attention and resources from other national priorities, at a time when Pakistan remains financially strapped. (Kronstedt et al. 2010)
Some repercussions of the floods for the stability of Pakistan an regional stability include: consisted of:
- Most logistical supplies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan are shipped to Afghanistan overland through Pakistan. Some of these supply shipments were disrupted and delayed due to the road and bridge destruction throughout the country – but especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
- U.S. military assets were used on HA/DR missions and hence these assets were unavailable for active military operations – whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region.
- The floods exposed weaknesses in the Pakistani government’s ability to respond to natural disasters. As one of the few robust institutions in Pakistan, the Pakistani military played a central and valuable role in responding to the flood. In terms of both attention and resources, this – at least temporarily – removed some focus away from Pakistan’s operations against Taliban forces located in Pakistan, such as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Given that U.S. progress in Afghanistan is contingent upon simultaneous efforts by Pakistan against Taliban forces in Pakistan itself, this opportunity cost had repercussions for U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
- Response efforts to the floods have been performed by a number of different entities, including some Islamic militant organizations. Some of these groups are actively engaged in efforts directly counter to U.S. interests in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. While the scale of these efforts is such as to only make a marginal difference (in terms of both disaster response and political gains), the mere fact that a gap existed in response efforts which was filled by organizations hostile to U.S. interests magnifies the credibility of these groups amongst the local population (and conversely downgrades the credibility of U.S. and Pakistani response efforts.)
- The floods caused massive relocations of IDPs throughout Pakistan. Many of these IDPs, however, have moved towards urban areas. For example, as of November 2010, hundreds of thousands of IDPs were in camps around the city of Karachi (population 18 million). Karachi is already considered a hotspot for ethnic violence given rivalries between the majority Mujahirs and the Pashtuns (while formally considered a minority in Karachi, Pashtuns still comprise a population of 7 million residents in the city.) Tensions also exist between these groups and Sindhs living in the city. IDPs in Karachi come from a variety of ethnic groups and regions across Pakistan. Therefore, in addition to the mere addition to population density (a threat driver in its own right), the ethnic tensions in Karachi are added to by significant numbers of IDPs. Minor incidents of violence between groups, and government forces and groups have occurred since the floods began. (Dixon and Shaffer 2010).
- Household and community resilience: Following the floods, resources available to households and communities to bolster their resilience to natural hazards are significantly lower than they were before. In the rural areas impacted by the floods, entire communities are gone. While these villages can potentially be rebuilt, a major issue that Pakistan will have going forward concerns property rights. Many legal documents delineating property holdings have been permanently lost. As a result, disputes over land ownership are expected to develop.
- One of the key long-range issues involving security is poppy cultivation: Poppy cultivation, unlike its replacement crop, wheat, creates more jobs over less acreage. But farmers will often sacrifice some profit and forgo illicit crop cultivation—which attracts insecurity, insurgents, and law enforcement—as long as the alternatives bring them sufficient income. If efforts to that end succeed in Afghanistan—and as long as there is global demand for opiates—cultivation and heroin production could very likely move back to Pakistan. Such relocation would critically undermine the Pakistani state by empowering jihadists with profit and political capital. (Brookings)
- Governance systems and existing political violence: The 2010 floods highlighted a Pakistani governance system that is already under extreme stress. The floods clearly showed that the civilian government did not have the capacity to either effectively warn communities of the growing flood levels or respond to the ongoing disaster. The Pakistani military, on the other hand, had the capability, heavy equipment, and resources to respond to many aspects of the flood. This has resulted in a perception and, to a degree, a reality of the Pakistani civilian government being even more reliant on the Pakistani military than it has been in the past. This has two negative ramifications. First, the rising preeminence of the military further erodes democratic governance in Pakistan. Second, the Punjabi ethnic group dominates the Pakistani military. A perception that the military – under the influence of a particular ethnic group – is taking more and more of a role in implementing government functions will result in further distrust and disengagement by large populations in Pakistan who are not Punjabi.
Political violence in Pakistan is extreme and ongoing. In addition to a series of assassinations and coups in recent decades, Pakistan is struggling to gain political control over major areas of the country, notably in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. This transitional area is a stronghold for Pakistani Taliban insurgent groups, as well as terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, that operate in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This unsettled area – in which Pakistani military operations are currently ongoing – is the very same where the floods began and did considerable damage. (Dixon and Shaffer 2010).
Prediction and predictability of the floods
Webster et al. (2010a; submitted paper) provide an historical perspective on the Pakistan floods. There have been 67 flooding events occurring since 1900 with a clustering of 52 events in the last 30 years [IDD, http://www.emdat.be ].This clustering is consistent with the increase in intensity of the global monsoon during the last three decades (Wang et al. 2010) occurring with the warming of the last three decades. There have be other flooding events with similar death tolls and cost (e.g., 1950, 1977, 1998).
Webster et al. (2010a) investigate two questions regarding the Pakistan floods: Was the rainfall abnormal compared to previous years? Could a high probability of flooding have been predicted with a lead time sufficient to allow timely evacuations, mitigatory water resource management decisions, the protection of infrastructure and the saving of agricultural and household effects? They concluded that while the average May to August rainfall for year 2010 was comparable in magnitude to previous years, it was the rainfall rate and the location of the deluges that conspired to produce the devastating floods. They used the ECMWF EPS 15-day ensemble forecast system is used to assess whether the rainfall over the flood affected region was predictable. A multi-year analysis shows that in general the rainfall in Pakistan is highly predictable out to 6-8 days. The summer of 2010 was no exception and a high probability of intense rainfall was predicted 6-7 days in advance, with indications of each heavy rainfall event seen 10-14 days in advance.
Webster et al. (2010a) conclude that if the rainfall forecasts had been coupled to a hydrological model then the high risk of extensive and dangerous flooding could have anticipated, enabling proactive actions to mitigate its effects. If such forecasts had been available to the regions of northern Pakistan, government institutions and water resource managers could have anticipated rapid filling of dams, releasing water ahead of the deluges.
Lessons from the 2010 Pakistan Floods
The 2010 Pakistan floods have exacerbated a mix of destabilizing elements that already existed within Pakistan. Future natural disasters and climate change impacts will occur in Pakistan and may add to the toxic mix of instability already present. Ultimately, if this cycle continues, the threat accelerant nature of natural disasters and climate change impacts may result in a failed state that could destabilize the entire region.
The question then rises – if, going forward, natural disasters will inevitably occur in Pakistan, what can be done to limit the probability of these natural disasters being threat accelerants?
An issue that has not been adequately addressed is to what extent improved understanding of flood vulnerability and monitoring and prediction of floods on timescales of days to weeks can be used to make operational decisions in terms of river management, prepositioning resources and providing advance evacuation warnings to communities. While relatively few lives were lost given the magnitude of the floods, substantial losses were sustained for livestock, crops and seed stock. Havesting and/or transporting harvested crops away from the flood region in advance of the flood and evacuating livestock and seed stock can substantially mitigate the losses and speed recovery. Such evacuation during the 2008 Bangladesh floods was accomplished with warnings beginning 9 days before the anticipated floods (Webster et al. 2010b).
The relative frequency of significant flooding in Pakistan, and perhaps increasing frequency in the future, raises questions about if and how efforts to rebuild can improve the nation’s resiliency to future extreme weather events and how scenarios of future flooding frequencies and can inform resilient rebuilding. Note, this is a very concrete example of my interest in how to make regional decadal scenario projections out to 2040.
Efforts to address such issues seem mired in politics (international politics about which group is seen to be the source of the aid, funding, national level politics). Further complicating the issue internally in Pakistan, in late December Pakistan’s Ministry of the Environment was included in a batch of ministries that are in line to be dissolved at the federal level and decentralize them to the provinces, effective 28 Feb 2011. This decentralization will make it more difficult for international organizations to help Pakistan address these issues.