Flood Brothers: How Pakistan’s flood tragedy holds vital lessons for India

India has been quite heedless about the effects of its great ‘development’ push on the fragile ecology of the Himalayas. The devastation next door must serve as an eye-opener

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Shalini Sahay

The Devastation

  • 50 million people are displaced

  • 128,000 displaced women are pregnant

  • 42,000 births expected in the next three months

  • 1 million heads of livestock killed

  • 1 million houses washed away

  • 100 km-wide inland lake created by floods in Pakistan

  • 90% standing crops of cotton, dates, sugarcane destroyed

  • 600 mm rain in Karachi in July, which normally gets 60-80 mm

  • 680.5 mm rain in Sindh since July; it usually gets110 mm in an entire monsoon

  • 7,253 glaciers in Pakistan, said to be the highest number in any country outside the polar region, are melting fast

  • 103,000 square miles area in Pakistan —more than the entire area of the UK -- under water

  • 100 flood-affected persons in Pakistan booked under terrorism charges because they pelted stones when the Pakistan PM went visiting a flood relief camp

Indus River

In Pakistan, Sindh is bisected by the mighty Indus River, along whose banks farming has flourished for millennia with records of irrigation systems dating back to 4,000 BC. The province received record rainfall but that water has nowhere to drain because the Indus is already at full flow, swollen by tributaries in the north, and has burst its banks in several places.

The Jet Stream

Meteorologists believe that global heating could have caused the havoc in Pakistan in both 2010 and in 2022. Warmer air hold more water and the movement of the Jet Stream, a high level wind that circles the planet, they have established, caused floods in Pakistan in 2010 and heatwave in Russia that year. This year too, temperature and wind variations in the Pacific may have caused the flooding in Pakistan.

Cat and the Tiger

Anecdotal evidence compiled by Indian expert Dinesh Mishra quoted an elderly woman recalling that earlier floods came slowly like a cat advancing one step at a time on its prey. But over the years the floods have become ferocious and now pounce on their prey like a tiger, without any warning. Number of flash floods has increased in both India and Pakistan. A wag describes flash flood as: ‘When you go to the market and get washed away, with no warning whatsoever’.

Lessons for India

Both India and Pakistan have witnessed longer, more intense and more erratic monsoon. Eight tropical cyclones were reported in India in the last eight years, six of them classified as very severe. Cyclone Fani affected 28 million people in India and Bangladesh. Glaciers in India too have been melting and heavy rains have caused landslides and subsidence.

Mohenjo Daro (Photo: Getty Images)
Mohenjo Daro (Photo: Getty Images)

Mohenjo Daro Damaged

Ruins of Mohenjo Daro, the bronze age urban civilisation that flourished in the Indus Valley between 3,300 and 1,300 BC, have been damaged by heavy rain, reported media in Pakistan. The ruins received a record 779 mm of rain between August 16 and August 26. The ruins are 510 km from Karachi and 28 km from Larkana.

The DOs and DON'Ts of disaster relief

  • Do bring food for people displaced and affected by the floods

  • Don’t turn it into a scripted moment and ask people to pose for you

  • Do take pictures and videos of your group carrying out relief work to ensure transparency and to call for donations

  • Don’t turn it into a circus with more cameramen than the victims. Also ask if they are fine with being photographed

  • Do strategise how to reach inaccessible areas with bags of ration

  • Don’t throw sacks of ration out of helicopters, causing them to scatter on impact, wasting the food

  • Do listen to people and understand what they need

  • Don’t compare flooded areas to Venice. No one is laughing

(A list of dos and don’ts for relief situations, put out by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper)

The floodplain of the Ganga is the largest in the world, and easily among the most densely populated.

The topography map (Source: EPIC Maps)
The topography map (Source: EPIC Maps)
Flood Brothers: How Pakistan’s flood tragedy holds vital lessons for India

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