While the politicians’ favourite punching bag—the military—is out in the field reaching out to the sufferers of the ongoing floods, it has emerged as a beacon of hope for victims. In Punjab, Chief Minster Punjab has been seen leading the disaster management effort from the front. The Chief Minister of KPK however, has spent most of the flood season on paid holiday, enjoying the ongoing political picnic at D-chowk; and the Chief Minister of Sindh was surprised to find that the dykes were dilapidated, with no improvement since 2010.

Water boarding is popularly known as a form of water torture, leading to physical injury and lasting psychological damage. During the monsoon season we as a nation go through this agony on a yearly basis without resorting to any meaningful medium and long-term strategies to at least mitigate its effects. As such, the side effects of each flood each year is felt for years to come.

Every year there is a systemic collapse of administrative and civic structures leading to  an inadequate flow of food supplies and preventive medicines to people caught up in the floods. VIPs make a beeline for flood affected areas for photo-ops in make shift relief camps. Only a small trickle of benefits doled out by the state reaches victims. The National Disaster Management Authority craftily shifts the onus of efficiency to contributory causes. Ensuing disease, death and loss of personal belongings inflict lasting psycho-social effects on suffering families. Often an international appeal is made, sending a humiliating message to the international community that Pakistan is unable to handle even a fairly predictable and recurring issue.

A climate vulnerability report released by environmental think-tank Germanwatch counted Pakistan amongst the three countries most affected by extreme weather events in 2012. This organization released a report titled Global Climate Risk Index 2014 during the United Nations climate summit in Poland, which stated that Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan were worst hit by climate-related catastrophes in 2012. The report also noted that Pakistan has been amongst the three most affected countries for three consecutive years. The 2014 report has also published a Climate Risk Index for 1993-2010, with Pakistan ranked as the 12th most affected country by climate-related events over the last two decades; extreme weather calamities caused Pakistan economic losses worth 0.7% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over 20 years.

Analysis of historic data reveals a definitive pattern indicating a four-yearly repetitive water flow pattern, moving between flash flood and semi-drought conditions. This is good enough for broader planning; however there is a need to improve the flood warning and rain forecast sub-systems for accurate planning and micro management. Improved early warning systems, strongly advocated by numerous expert studies have not yet been put in place. Experts say we are attempting to deal with lethal floods while using age-old methods. A number of reports have highlighted the need to manage rivers, waterways and barrages in a more modern and effective way. We have not developed the means to do so.

The worst flood occurred in 2010, when 2,000 people were killed; the largest number was in KPK. Over the past four years, Sindh has suffered terrible flood damage, despite the fact that it gets the earliest warning. The current floods have again demonstrated that unless state structures are geared to handle the catastrophe in a comprehensive way, rescue measures can play only a limited role.

Adequate preventive measures can be instituted to turn the recurring crises of floods into an economic opportunity. The issue we face is of water management (read: mismanagement). There is a huge gap between the availability of quantum of water during shortage and surplus periods. Time-span wise, these spells are apart only by four to six weeks. Moreover, once uncontrolled water is wasted into the Arabian Sea, the country returns back to the status of water scarcity. Statistics of the 2010 floods reveal that water equivalent to over five times the storage capacity of Mangla and Tarbela dams was wasted into the Arabian Sea.

If this surplus flood/rain water could be reigned in, it can offset water scarcity during a substantial portion of each year. Effects of ongoing floods could have been mitigated to a large extent, had we built adequate rain/flood water storage facilities. Water stored during such surge flooding could be used for supplementing water supplies during periods of water scarcity. Likewise, an efficient drainage system could have detoured surplus water through rerouting, thus mitigating the intensity of flood waves, as they moved from north to south.

There is a need to ascertain the existing water storage capacity and quantum of surplus water that has flown into the sea during such flooding; identify the shortfall and determine the requirements for storage enhancement through upgradations of existing reservoirs and the construction of new ones. Moreover, we need to focus on the capacity shortfall of the existing drainage system and undertake appropriate enhancement measures. Furthermore, a composite strategy should be worked out for enmeshing drainage and storage through interlinking the two for achieving an efficient storage/drainage combine through water regulation. This warrants holistic audits of the existing water storage capacity and the national drainage system.

Keeping in view the sensitivities of the provinces with regard to water management issues, the provinces may be encouraged to develop their own rain/floodwater storage infrastructures. Provinces should have exclusive rights of usage over their stored rain/flood water. Moreover, the inter-province sale of surplus water on federally approved rates could create an incentive for the provinces to invest in the venture.

The proposed methodology comprises of various means aimed at synergizing their effects. These are: all available technologies should be employed to enhance water storage capacities of existing dams through raising their height and regular dredging of reservoirs; existing natural water lakes’ storage capacity may be enhanced through expansion/dredging; during the floods, water released through spillway gates of dams and head works should not join the same main stream and should instead go to designated water storage facilities, or flow into designated drainage channels; additional regular and rainwater dams should be built; apart from dams, suitable locations need to be identified for building new flood/rain water storage facilities. The hilly ridges of Margala, Kallar Kahar and Chiniot offer such natural sites.

A scientifically carried out feasibility survey would reveal numerous locations where water storage facilities could be built/improvised/upgraded; the envisaged National Drainage System should, inter alia, comprise of two high speed water channels running almost the entire length of the country, from north to south; one on the east of the river system, the other on the west of the river system. These channels should be so routed to connect all water storage facilities through feeding-in as well as feeding-out mini channels, through a water regulatory mechanism.

This format of storage-drainage-composite would facilitate the inter-location shifting of water. A net surplus that is beyond the net storage capacity of the country should keep pouring into these two envisaged drainage channels for final disposal into the Arabian Sea.

A national water management policy is long overdue; besides rain and floodwater issues, it must also provide long term direction for water conservation, recycling and pollution mitigation.

The writer is a freelance columnist.