Lessons from the Deluge

Asher Hasan, CEO and founder of Naya Jeevan (R) speaks with P.G. Chakrabarti, Director of the SAARC (L), at Asia Society India Centre on November 12, 2010. (Asia Society India)

MUMBAI, November 12, 2010 - In July 2010, Pakistan experienced the worst floods in its history, which left over 1,900 dead and over 20 million affected. The country still needs massive assistance to overcome the tragedy, which provided many lessons on how to mitigate the effects of such natural disasters in the future.

These were some of the thoughts shared by Asher Hasan, CEO and Founder of Naya Jeevan, an NGO based in Karachi, Pakistan, providing catastrophic healthcare to low-income families; and P.G. Chakrabarti, Director of the SAARC Disaster Management Centre and Executive Director of India's National Institute of Disaster Management; in an Asia Society India Centre programme, Pakistan Flooded: Looking Forward from the 2010 Deluge.

Hasan stressed the importance of looking at a country's infrastructure preemptively to find vulnerabilities before natural disasters strike. He explained the range of consequences of the floods—from trees crushing through homes to people suffering from burns—because of the increased use of firewood that followed the interruption of gas supplies. The floods destroyed infrastructure, further compromised water purification, access to food and clean sources of fuel, and obstructed healthcare services. With 2,224,644 hectares of crops destroyed, many livelihoods were also destroyed.

However, Hasan said that these conditions provided the opportunity for technology to come in and experiment with creative models such as alternative sources of fuel. He also stressed the need for scalable solutions, and said that the Pakistani government should have been providing more of the relief work, rather than NGOs and the army.

Chakrabarti elaborated that considering the extreme magnitude of the floods, the calamity received very low media coverage in India. He lamented that an opportunity was missed to build deeper people-to-people linkages in South Asia through floods relief efforts, and that visas were denied to many Indians who wanted to volunteer with the relief efforts. Many other issues were also sparked, he said, such as the allegations that rich farmers took measures to protect their own lands while diverting floods to poorer farmers, and the long-term political consequences of militants providing relief to build goodwill.

Chakrabarti also noted that SAARC had a mandate for components like risk assessment and reduction, but has recently pushed through obtaining a mandate for disaster response as well, so that it can be of substantial use in such situations. He said that there was great potential for the region to benefit from water management agreements, and that such agreements along other transnational rivers like the Rhine and the Danube could provide useful models to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan for such collaboration.

The panelists highlighted what the region could do to prevent such a catastrophe from occurring again and what assistance Pakistan needed to overcome its current flood-related problems, thus providing key lessons from the 2010 deluge.