By Mohammad Ali Khan
WHILE rapid changes in the weather pattern have increased vulnerabilities caused by natural disasters, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has yet to come up with an integrated approach to handle floods in future.
The unprecedented floods of 2010 have exposed the poor water management and flawed traditional approach to handling the situation. The flash floods resulted in record human and material losses, pushing more people into the poverty trap.
Prof Dr Jamal Khan, Chairman Water Management Department of Agriculture University, Peshawar, says the flood management and turning disasters into an opportunity, have never been the government priority. With limited resources, the provincial government prefers to focus on its short-term projects, which include construction of temporary embankments.
“Flood management has to be a priority, given the rapid changes in the weather pattern,” opines Khan, arguing “the last year’s floods have badly damaged the irrigation system while naturally the focus was on its reconstruction and restoration.”
According to the Damage and Need Assessment worked out by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, the KP irrigation sector remains one of the worst hit, as the flash floods damaged at least 17 canal systems and seven embankments just within a few days’ time.
The vulnerability caused by similar incidents in the future needs to be overcome by an integrated approach for flood management, Shakeel Qader Khan, Director General Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), tells Dawn.
“Unfortunately we have not yet been able to invest much of the resources in the flood management system,” opines Khan, arguing further that there is neither enough investment in water storage nor in effective regulation and early warning.
“For the safety against floods, there are no formal protective arrangements across KP except for Dera Ismail Khan along the Indus River,” he says.
According to the irrigation department, the length of total embankments on the major river system of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is hardly 286 kilometers, which was too badly damaged in last year’s floods. Under early recovery and short-term flood protection projects, according to a senior official, the provincial government has spent Rs2 billion on the most vulnerable spots along the major river systems.
The early warning system mainly relies on flood gauging through Wapda’s telemetry system and the obsolete system deployed by the provincial irrigation department. “The irrigation department can hardly provide 24-48 hours warning along the Swat River, 5-7 hours along Kabul and 36-48 hours along the Indus at DI Khan. Such forecast, however, does not help evacuation of vulnerable communities to safer locations as witnessed last year. There are no arrangements to forewarn vulnerable communities of flash flooding across the mountainous regions,” says the PDMA chief.
According to Dr Jamal, there has been very little investment in water storage that can reduce the vulnerability of floods and also contribute to the conservation of water for crops. This storage capacity has further been undermined by massive silting that naturally reduces their flood impact mitigation capacities. There are only two reservoirs in KP, Warsak and Tarbela. The former has lost its storage capacity long ago, while the live storage capacity of the later has gone down to 6.77 MAF from its original capacity of 9.68 MAF, a 30 per cent decrease during the last 36 years, he argues.
There are three major head works including Munda, Amandara and Kurram Garhi in KP, which regulate water discharge to different tributaries of major river systems and canals. However, the 2010 floods has badly damaged this infrastructure too.
The performance of these facilities is doubtful even if subjected to slightly higher pressures than their designed capacity.
Shabir Hussain, a specialist in watershed management, says that with the massive changes in the weather pattern, the entire Peshawar valley has entered into the monsoon range.
According to him, the upper regions of KP constitute the catchment area of River Indus, the main river of the province. The Indus along its course is joined by its tributaries originating from the Northern Areas and some in the province like the River Kabul, Swat and Kurram and numerous minor mountain water channels.
Unfortunately, the river systems are not covered by the flood monitoring mechanism and, therefore, any major water overflow is detected late, practically close to Tarbela only, leaving little time for preparedness, he says.
Monsoon hazards in KP emerge as a result of heavy precipitation and subsequent flooding along the Swat, Kabul and Indus rivers and also through flash flooding in numerous hill torrents across the province. However, the simultaneous occurrence of riverine and flash floods, heavy precipitation and the cloud burst phenomenon can worsen the impacts of the monsoons.
Hussain recommends adopting integrated approach for flood management, major element of which is to build water reservoirs to conserve water for ground water recharge and also for crops.
“Look if we have at least three or four water reservoirs in upper parts of the province, from where flash floods originate, and if these water storage infrastructure is interlinked with each other, the vulnerability caused by floods can be substantially reduced,” opines Khan, saying due attention is also needed to be paid for improving water regulation capacity of major head works, supported by an early warning system equipped by the latest radars and satellites.
For Dr Jamal, however, the biggest impediment in water management is the lack of coordination among different government agencies.
“Just take for example, water management is a joint responsibility of the irrigation and agriculture departments, but they work in isolation and have no interaction,” remarks Dr Jamal.