Thursday, September 23, 2010

Positive Side of Floods

Although Pakistan is still reeling in sprinting waters of the worst floods, that is only one side of the story. Every cloud has a silver lining and the floods, having claimed many lives and caused displacements and destruction, have also brought many opportunities that our nation can leverage. First, it is an opportunity afforded to us by nature to ponder and reflect upon our past policies related to water conservation and building of water reservoirs. If we don’t awake and reflect NOW, then when will we?

The floods are a wake-up call for the entire nation to come out of political agendas and start thinking how to build water reservoirs that can be channeled to create energy and irrigate fields. We are an energy-starved nation and will create electricity only if we put wanton waters on a tight leash. Nations get united in calamities and catastrophes and which bigger calamity or catastrophe we still wait for? Is this the last flood? Nobody can say. What if next monsoon rains repeat the same behavior?

Second, floods distribute large amounts of suspended river sediment over vast areas. In many areas, this sediment helps replenish valuable topsoil components to agricultural lands and can keep the elevation of a land mass above sea level. In the disguise of destruction, maddening waters bring nutrients and micronutrients which our lands desperately need to enhance per acreage yield. The Indus River will refresh and reshape its river bed and may transfer rich sediments to the canals linked with it. Floods, in their flow, shake up the soil to a sufficient depth, oxygenate it, empower its richness and restore its strength. Lands, severely struck by floods, will produce more crops in the next seasons.

Many areas of Pakistan are facing problems with water salinity and acidic potable water. Reservoirs of flood water will help push salinity and acids to a sufficient depth into the water beds. The potable water will be purer and more hygienic in these areas. The water beds in northern Sind and southern Punjab provinces are losing their levels. These water beds are slipping downward incessantly. The recent floods will help increase the surface of water beds to the required level.

Third, another area where floods have played havoc is the livestock. According to estimates, over 100,000 cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, horses, camels and donkeys have been lost and 3,000 fish farms and 2,000 poultry farms destroyed across the country. For economic empowerment, besides providing shelter, there is a greater need of livestock and therefore it is an appropriate opportunity to import best breeds of animals and distribute them among farmers.

Fourth, with destruction of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, telephone and electricity poles, there is a bright economic opportunity for sectors related to construction like cement, bricks, paint, iron, etc. Internally Displaced People (IDPs) whose main livelihood hinged on agriculture or livestock could find immediate jobs in the construction sector giving them temporary relief from unemployment caused by loss of crops. The floods are providing bright opportunities of consistent employment for unskilled labor over the next at least five years.

Fifth, the irrigation sector of Pakistan was already in a shambles before the floods. The slippage of water upstream and inability to reach the needy areas was a hallmark of the system. According to irrigation expert, Idrees Rajput, “Water levels in Sindh rose to similar high floods in 1992 and 1976 but the impact was not as huge. This time, flooding has been exacerbated only due to decades of government corruption and neglect (in irrigation departments).” That is a great opportunity to raise and re-build the entire system of irrigation utilizing the latest technologies. Private investments can be wooed to build and operate the systems.

No doubt the floods have made a deep impact on the country’s resources but at the same time there are opportunities in many sectors. To safeguard the interests of young and upcoming generations, the need of the hour is to absorb this catastrophe with patience, wisdom, good planning and implementation instead of continuous squabbles!