This month’s devastation caused by monsoon flooding in Pakistan could take 10 years and £10bn to repair, experts said this week.
Pakistan’s high commissioner to the UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan said the costs of recovery could reach almost £10bn.
And disaster relief charity RedR country director for Pakistan Imam Baig told NCE the effects of the floods would be felt for a decade. “We are mired into being a poverty stricken country for the next 10 years,” he said.
Baig said 23 cities are “totally under the water” following the floods. “All [their] infrastructure is either half damaged or completely destroyed.”
He said all infrastructure including roads, bridges, water, power and telecommunications had been affected.
Baig said 60% of the people affected by the floods - estimated to be over 14M people - are currently inaccessible due to flooded roads or landslides. The UN is now starting a programme to deliver aid by aircraft, he added.
Aid and development agency CARE International shelter sector specialist Lizzie Babister said roads have also suffered due to existing ground conditions. In mountainous areas the ground is sandy and prone to landslides, she said. The asphalt roads hold together but become unsafe for use because the ground beneath them becomes unstable, she added. “The more rain you get the more landslides you get. It’s a direct cause and effect.”
New bridges needed
Babister said many minor bridges have collapsed due to flood damage, but major bridges have held up better because the government recently completed a scheme to build a number of suspension bridges, which are less vulnerable to flood waters.
She said some major bridges have sustained masonry damage but are still standing. “The government has a history of building good bridges,” she said.
But she said new bridges are likely to be needed on the Indus - Pakistan’s longest river at 3,180km - because when the waters subside the river’s course will have moved by up to 1.6km in places.
The Indus has swelled so much that its flows have caused normal erosion processes to speed up significantly. “It’s so sudden it can break big chunks of the bank,” said Babister.
“India has a history of good bridges, but flows can cause big chunks to break off the riverbank”
Lizzie Babister, CARE International
Temporary bridges must be built to replace those that have fallen. Baig said the UN will work with the Pakistani government to co-ordinate this, but the work has not yet begun.
Babister said one of the crucial factors will be to ensure the temporary bridges are able to support the heavy weight of aid lorries. The government and military have historically been quick and efficient at clearing landslides, she said.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) said that it would be bringing forward a £10M bridge building project, in partnership with the government of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It was previously scheduled for 2011 but will now start “as soon as soon as possible after the recovery process makes access possible”.
DFID-funded engineers have been in the area since early August and identification of priority sites and planning are ongoing.
Power supplies seriously hit
Babister said power infrastructure had also been badly hit. “There are some places where it’s been knocked out and some where they’ve had to turn it off as a precaution,” she said. A number of areas have had their power supply pre-emptively cut off due to fears that fires could be caused by flood water reaching live cables.
Some 3.2Mha of standing crops have also been destroyed by floods, crippling people’s livelihoods.
In what Babister said is likely to be a typical example of the effects of the floods, the Munda Headworks, a 170m long gated weir on the River Swat that regulated irrigation supplies to two canals, has been destroyed. Only six of the weir’s eight 3m thick stone masonry piers remain standing.
As a result the two canals and the surrounding area - which contains standing crops sown by 500,000 people - have been flooded. In addition, 1.4km of a road on the canal bank has also been washed out.
BAK Consulting Engineers partner HD Bangash said it would likely take £25M and three years to rebuild the headworks. Bangash said he hopes a joint venture of European and Pakistani engineers could take on the reconstruction project.
Meanwhile, 265 Chinese engineers working for Sinohydro Group on the Duber Khwar Hydro Power Project - a dam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province scheduled for completion in October 2010 - were stranded when their work site was hit by torrential rains and a flood-triggered landslide. They have since been rescued.
Months until crisis settles
Baig said it will take at least two months for the immediate crisis to settle and for all areas to become accessible again.
“This damage is more than that of the earthquake in 2005 and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami ,” he said. “It is a huge, huge loss to the country.”
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said earlier this week that the flooding in Pakistan is the worst disaster he has ever seen. “I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this,” he said.
Babister added that the very rural nature of the areas affected has made access issues more difficult here than in other recent disasters.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) is taking donations to the Pakistan Floods Appeal. “The funding that’s required is huge, especially for infrastructure, and because we had Haiti recently we are just not getting the same donations,” said Babister.