Rising water levels are intensifying the risks to urban development projects in Pakistan, highlighting the need for climate-resilient solutions. The recent spell of excessive rainfall in various parts of the country has once again highlighted the serious problem of urban flooding in Pakistan. These devastating floods are often blamed on climate change by the government, but there is significant inadequacy at the government’s end.
As the nation experiences increasingly intense rainfall events and grapples with inadequate drainage systems, the impacts of urban flooding on development projects have emerged as a critical concern. It is becoming evident that the current planning and policy frameworks for managing urban flooding are ineffective in the light of climate change.
Reforestation programmes like The Billion Tree Tsunami campaign should be initiated and scaled up in the long term. Pakistan will need to simultaneously provide a consistent and dependable source of funding while addressing its national-level challenges with long-term, sustainable solutions. A large national reform effort and the repair of ineffective governance systems are required to achieve this delicate balance
Despite knowing that urban flooding is a recurring phenomenon in Pakistan, its causes are often neglected by the government. All four provinces all experienced hill torrents, with flash floods causing substantial damage. Several factors, like unplanned urbanization, inadequate storm water drainage systems, changes in natural drainage routes due to careless building, and poor urban governance, all contribute to the issue. All these causes have resulted in severe immediate and long-term consequences.
Apart from the natural causes of these catastrophic floods, the growing city sprawl has led to encroachment on banks and rivers, ultimately causing urban flooding. Poor planning in urban areas leaves little to no room for water to move after high rains. The housing societies and businessmen have been illegally developing societies, buildings, and hotels, as seen along the banks of the Swat River. The hotels and residential structures that were illegally built limited the river’s route, which in turn restricted the rivers’ and streams’ flow. In August 2022, flash floods wreaked havoc in Swat, resulting in damaged houses, blocked roads, and power outages, with several people having to leave their houses due to the damage caused by the floodwater.
CPEC, the major development project between China and Pakistan, remains no less affected by these massive floods. These intense yearly floods have destroyed a number of power plants, highways, and special economic zones, causing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to face severe losses. The construction site and roads used by the Chinese-funded projects have been flooded, and the on-site facilities were also damaged to a large extent. The construction of the Gwadar East Bay Expressway was suspended after the 2019 floods in Balochistan. The expressway is a key part of CPEC, and its completion would improve connectivity between Gwadar port and the rest of Pakistan.
For Pakistan, which was experiencing severe macroeconomic and political unrest, the floods of August 2022 could not have arrived at a worse moment. The socioeconomic characteristics of the country are defined by a reliance on agricultural and livestock activities, which made flooding even more destructive. Pakistan needs an efficiently working agricultural sector for swift economic progress. However, these changing climate patterns are causing widespread destruction of Pakistan’s agriculture and livestock, leading to food insecurity. According to the estimates, 2022 floods destroyed 1.8 million tons of rice, 88 percent of the total expected cotton production, and 61 percent of the total expected sugarcane production.
The repercussions of urban flooding are felt in the industrial sector of Pakistan as well. Damaged industrial infrastructure, disrupted supply chains, and loss of inventory, all due to the devastating floods, have plagued the industrial sector of Pakistan. According to Pakistani media, the torrential rains that have devastated both cities and the countryside may have ruined cotton worth €2.6 billion nationwide. Wrecked by the 2022 floods, up to 100 smaller mills have stopped operating in Sindh due to the difficulty in obtaining high-quality cotton, high fuel costs, and poor recovery of payments from buyers in flood-hit areas.
In Pakistan, where there is already a serious energy crisis and limited LNG supplies, severe floods have put grid stations in danger and exacerbated power shortages. Pakistan’s energy sector is vulnerable to changes in the global environment because of its reliance on imported fossil fuels and the state of its infrastructure. With the Indus and its tributaries constituting Pakistan’s sole major river system and producing 27% of the nation’s electricity, recent floods have endangered important power systems and intensified power shortages across the country.
In the northern part of Gilgit-Baltistan, which has tremendous hydropower potential and serves as the entry to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), 22 power units have been damaged, leaving 90 percent of the region without electricity. A few of the gas pipelines, especially in Balochistan, were also swept away due to immense water flows. Power stations in the Khairpur region of Sindh, which was severely impacted by the floods, are still under water, leading to increased power outages.
Pakistan is one of many developing countries that, despite producing significantly fewer greenhouse gases than developed countries, is significantly affected by the risks of climate change. Pakistan’s recent flooding due to the climate has served as a wake-up call to prioritize climate change, raise awareness about it, and formulate adequate policies to combat it. Furthermore, there is a need for a paradigm shift in current urban development plans to prevent city sprawl.
Reforestation programmes like The Billion Tree Tsunami campaign should be initiated and scaled up in the long term. Pakistan will need to simultaneously provide a consistent and dependable source of funding while addressing its national-level challenges with long-term, sustainable solutions. A large national reform effort and the repair of ineffective governance systems are required to achieve this delicate balance.