Can Pakistan break cycle of destruction in flood rebuilding?


Men walk along a flooded road with their belongings, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sohbatpur, Pakistan

Donors pledge $9 billion to rebuild Pakistan after floods

The recovery plan focuses on climate resilience and adaptation.

Poor water management, urbanism to blame for the damage.

GOZO: It has been almost five months since floods swept away Muhammad Fazal's general store in southern Pakistan. Today, he's rebuilding his business on a higher, firmer footing - hoping to be better prepared when the floods hit his village.

Fazal, 28, who borrowed money from a non-profit organization for the construction work, counts himself among the lucky ones - despite losing 400,000 rupees - as many Pakistanis struggle to recover from last year's devastation.

"I have upgraded my business, and I am rebuilding it better," he said in his village of Gozo in Dadu, a densely populated district of Sindh province that was hit hard by the devastating nationwide floods.

More than 1,700 people have been killed, and 8 million displaced by the floods, which have also destroyed about a million homes and businesses across the country of 220 million people, disaster management officials say.

About five million people - mostly in Sindh and the southwestern province of Balochistan - are still exposed to flooding months after monsoon rains and melting glaciers caused the disaster.

As the waters continue to recede, international donors pledged more than $9 billion in Geneva last month to help the cash-strapped South Asian country recover and rebuild.

Pakistan, mired in a deepening economic crisis, has been seeking funds to cover about half of its $16.3 billion reconstruction bill.

It now aims to use the money to implement its Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Framework (4RF), a recovery strategy that aims to build long-term climate resilience and adaptation.

This will mean strengthening flood defenses to prevent repeated loss of life, livelihoods and infrastructure, and government officials say swift action is essential as the effects of climate change gather pace.

What if this summer brings new horrors? Last month in Davos. According to a 2010 study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on the devastating cataracts, Pakistan lost about $19 billion to 21 major cataracts between 1950 and 2011—almost three times each—and caused about $10 billion in damage dollars. 

In addition to the 33 million affected by the past cataracts, another nine million people are at risk of being thrown into poverty, the United Nations development agency said on January 5, just before the Geneva conference. 

We have to learn the task this time, said Amir Ali Chandon, an academic in political thrift and mortal rights who recently retired from Sindh's Shah Abdul Lat if University in Khairpur. Like many other experts, he says the loss of life and property over time has been exacerbated by poor floodwater management at a time of rapid fire development and population growth. 

"The natural aqueducts have been disturbed. People have built their houses on the aqueducts. Roads without islands have also blocked the drive," said Mustafa Mirani, president of the Fisher folk Forum civil society.

Unchecked construction in flood-prone areas is an aggravating factor, said Ajay Kumar, an official with the Sindh Provincial Disaster Management Authority, but he said heavy rains last year "did real damage".

Beyond repairing immediate damage, the response to floods must be holistic and far-reaching if it is to be successful in building climate resilience, said Muhammad Ismail Kumbhar, a rural development consultant and agricultural education extension expert.

People should know how to be climate-resilient. Crop and livestock insurance should be in place," he said.

He called for the mapping of high-risk areas and the opening of natural waterways. Houses in coastal or riverbank areas or other places prone to flooding should be built on raised platforms and agricultural land should be reclaimed.

The ADB report recommended strengthening flood forecasting and early warning systems and linking all efforts to build large reservoirs to cope with the recent water and energy crises with flood management.


Unveiling the 4RF plan in Geneva, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said the government would use "every cent" of the pledges to benefit flood-affected people, trumpeting the success of emergency measures including the distribution of cash subventions to2.7 million homes. 

The strategy details plans for a thorough third-party audit and mechanisms to ensure transparency and well-targeted spending.

About 90% of the reconstruction commitments will be provided as project loans over the next three years, Finance Minister Ishaq DAR said after the Geneva meeting. The rest is help.

Ensuring the money is spent on the right projects is critical to the long-term success of the plan, said Malik Amen Aslam, a former adviser to Pakistan's prime minister on climate change.

" The effectiveness of this backing will depend on how transparently these finances are used to  ensure that they can be maximized for climate-compatible development," Aslam said by phone. 

While praising the plan, he said more of the funding should be allocated to immediate and urgent relief for the millions of people still affected by the disaster.

Implementation of the government's strategy to develop "climate-resilient, sustainable and adaptive infrastructure" will only be possible if local officials are on the same page, said Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer.

"For this to work, we also need to empower local governments," he said, noting that the $9 billion pledged by donors falls far short of the World Bank's estimate of $30 billion in losses and damages.


People like Aziz, 25, a mother of six who lives in a small village in Dadu district, urgently need help.

Floodwaters destroyed the house she and her husband had managed to build after selling their buffalo, leaving them to salvage what they could from the wreckage, the Thomson Reuters Foundation said.

Now the family has only a one-room thatched hut perched on an island surrounded by stagnant water. There is not indeed a  restroom, and Aziz and her hubby slightly earn enough to buy food — let alone structure accouterments. 

When her neighbor Allah Wadhaya's wife went into labor, they had to travel 20 km by boat in floodwater from their village to Johi town.

Roads are no longer underwater, but life is far from back to normal, said Wadhaya, a bricklayer.

" There isn't  important work for us yet because the  flood tide water is still standing in the  town lets and fields. The aid packages we are getting are not enough, and I have sold all the little gold I had," he said, standing next to the ruins. Of his adobe house.

In several places, international humanitarian organizations and local NGOs support climate-resilient house reconstruction.

In Pehlwan Khan Khosa village in Sindh's Jamshoro district, an International Labor Organization-funded project paid for villagers to rebuild their flood-damaged houses.

The non-profit organization HANDS Pakistan has helped people rebuild about 90,000 flood-resistant houses since 2012, training masons and providing technical support.

“With pitched roofs, 80% of the houses we helped people build survived the (2022) flood,” said Anis Danish, executive director of services at HANDS, as he showed off models of  Especially designed houses and bricks at his office in Karachi. 

" Now we've to go for adaptability religiously," he said.  “We must break the cycle of destruction.

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