Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flood Management & Map Phobia in Pakistan

In my blog of yesterday , I decried the absence of formal and even legal processes required in flood management.On technical side most elements and organisations are there and mostly reasonably equipped.There are weather monitoring stations,radars and real time river monitoring telemetry system.Pakistan Meteorological department (PMD) and Federal Flood Commissionerate(FFC) are old and established organisations , while NDMA is relatively young.Nor are floods new to Pakistan and neither are other disasters such as earht-quakes absent from our scene.

If one goes by the contents of a presentation arranged by UNDP for NDMA and made available on the internet,all kind of the required analysis of floods are done;from precipitation,river flow montoring and forecast to flood zoning and mapping.But what happened on the ground,however,is quite different.People ,communities and local governments were hardly in formed and were caught unaware.Flood Commissioner says we informed the governments ,NDMA and GHQ.I have discussed earlier of the lack of clear and formal procedures in this respect earlier.

Advance flood fore cast alone in itself is not sufficient enough.What one needs is a dynamic and timel data processing and information dissemination system.The situation on ground is that public was caught unaware on 3rd August when floods originated.Communities did not know till the eleventh hour whether they are required to move away from their settlements and to where.Once rainfall had occurred and no major one comes later,it is a fairly simple job to predict as to which areas and locations would go under water.Lower riparian populations could have been informed.Either there is vague and general info involving very large areas which no body believes or the local administrations finally decide on eleventh hour as to vacate or not,when it is too late and the consequent misery and catastrophe.As it is administrative structures are week and local governments dissolved.

First of all flood maps should be widely available based on the flood history,if not to individuals then to communities and local administrations.Flood forecast maps dynamically updated on a GIS internet based system ought to be available. Churning out maps in one month or more of time is of no use.Google Earth has also made life easier.If you make a commercial arrangement and fee payment with them,atleast public dissemination aspect becomes very effective and economical.

There is however an out of sync map phobia in Pakistan at all levels from public to the defece and security agencies.Mapping and GIS has been actively discouraged and opposed.As a result Pakistan is very backward today in a number of fields due to lack of availability of the GIS infrastructure and tools.Volunteer groups disseminate some GIS data with a lot of fear of being harassed by the security agencies.It is almost illegal,although not quite.Copy right issues, permissions which are seldom granted are involved.It is some how in our psyche as well. Bangladesh frenzy was prematurely initiated when East Pakistan map was found in somebody's drawer.Similar was the Jinahpoor episode.And lately Armed Forces Journal in America published an article doing a scenario analysis of the breakdown of state system in the middle east and showed some maps. Ordinarily no body may have given attention to such an aticle as the like of which are published rather frequently and routinely in the U.S. But because maps were published,this caught our fancy and frenzy. Thousands of photocopies were made and circulated by concerned and well-meaning individuals.

Elsewhere maps are so common and freely distributed even detailed street maps are available on the internet.They all have security issues,internal and external.Cost of abuse and user benefits are to be compared.In todays satellite imaging regime what and where is the secret.Enemy knows every thing well, It is secret for the ordinary individual. In any case security zones,unless the whole country may be in someones mind,could be removed from such data dissemination.Recently a Map of Emergency centers and camps was published in newspapers costing millions of rupees,which could have easily been done on Google Earth.It keeps media running and happy.So map phobia should go and a online real-time flood mapping system based on GIS be introduced.

Secondly the state of repair of the flood control infrastructure like Dykes and Bunds etc.In the USA Army Corps of Engineers are involved in building and even repairing major dykes and levees.Our irrigation department and officials are too corrupt ,lazy and out of sync with time in terms of knowledge,technology and practices.Because public life and property is involved ,independent monitoring arrangements of the stability and state of repair of dykes and levees should be established.Independent monitoring involving on-site examination may be farmed out to different civil engineering firms in the private sector.However a database of the Bund and Dykes be maintained by FFC.The data base should contain all the technical data and civil inspection summaries on these facilities.A GIS of the data can be created on Google Earth and later on a dedicated network eventually.Actual major maintenance be entrusted to Pakistan Army or FWO.

Some kind of Flood Insurance scheme may also be introduced ,where in both private and public resources may go in,so that a long term saving and resource arrangement takes care of such emergencies at least partly and we are not totally dependent on emergency foreign aid and philanthropy for ever.A lot of commercial structures like grid stations,transmission towers and mobile communication assets have also suffered significant loss.Flood insurance would also force some standardization and regularity in the flood regime.

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