This year’s unusually heavy rains have wreaked havoc in South Asia. In May and June, large areas of Bangladesh and northeastern India were flooded, killing hundreds and displacing millions. The flood situation has also taken a serious turn in Pakistan over the past few weeks.

The British magazine The Economist wrote in an analysis that more than 1,100 people died in the recent floods in Pakistan and at least 500,000 people lost their homes in the floods. One third of the country is under water. When such disasters strike, it is important not only to provide humanitarian aid, but also to learn lessons for the future. Pakistan need not look far to learn this lesson.

Flood-prone countries have spent decades developing methods of containing damage that others can easily adopt. Broadly, these fall into three categories—infrastructural coordination, early-warning systems and efficient channels for rapid financial relief. Bangladesh has led all three in South Asia.

Bangladesh has invested for many years in flood defense systems to protect its low-lying coastal areas from cyclones. Residents near the coast and in remote inland areas prone to flooding during monsoons have been encouraged to make their homes more flood-resistant and have been given money to do so.

Shelters have been set up on high ground, various measures have been taken for the welfare of women and cattle during calamities. People are encouraged to use shelters in various ways by providing all facilities.

For early warning, researchers collect weather data at the village level to predict flood days in advance. People are warned to leave their homes via text messages and mosque loudspeakers. Also help is provided through trained volunteers. Cash and increasingly mobile-money transfers provide financial support without bureaucracy.

These steps have saved many lives. In 1970, when Bangladesh was under Pakistan, a severe cyclone killed between 3 and 5 lakh people. But in 2020, only 30 people were killed in the same disaster in the country.

Many countries need to increase investment in flood prevention. African cities are struggling considerably in this regard. Pakistan itself has improved its early-warning system after flash floods killed more than 2,000 people in 2010, which has helped reduce the death toll in the current floods. Improved cash transaction network should help provide relief to flood victims.

However, it is clear that Pakistan has failed to take full advantage of the lessons offered by Bangladesh. One of the reasons for this is the reluctance to pay enough attention to the threat posed by climate change. Failures in this area also make rich countries suffer.

But the bigger reason is politics. Pakistan has been distracted from the kind of patient planning needed to build resilience against floods. The country, which is already suffering from economic and political instability, was hit by floods. Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan, who was ousted in April, is keen to do the same with his successor. They are exploiting the disaster to score political points, which could jeopardize the government’s relief efforts.

Pakistan’s plight also offers a different kind of warning about the far-reaching effects of global warming. As climate conditions around the world become more extreme, they may create more political instability. A surprisingly large number of people may be forced to leave their homes in the coming decades as climate change makes their cities and villages uninhabitable. They did not make calls to compensate poor and affected countries for climate change. All the preparation in the world may not be enough to prevent a fall.

(September 7)