ISET-RSPN Post Indus Floods Research Scoping long-term research agenda for climate change adaptation in the Indus basin through locally embedded capacities Overview The Indus basin in Pakistan is home to the largest contiguous surface irrigation system in the world and probably has the most highly regulated hydrology globally. The extent of human modification of the river system renders Indus’ hydrology more cultural and social rather than natural (Wescoat and Leichenko 1994).
Prior research on hazards in Pakistan has demonstrated
that vulnerability to hazards is constructed along class and gender inequalities and is embedded in everyday geographies of access to resources, state policies and social power (Halvorson 2002 & 2003).
Until 1973, the national flood policy in Pakistan was that of risk acceptance. After the public outcry in the aftermath of the 1973 floods, the government reworked the policy from risk acceptance to risk control, primarily through engineered flood protection infrastructure (Mustafa and Wescoat 1997). But the engineered infrastructure and relief oriented flood policy has no understanding or sensitivity to issues of social vulnerability. The policy is further complicated by the impending uncertainty that climate change will bring.
The dominant paradigm in the past few decades has been driven by the doctrine of “taming the mighty Indus” which the water resource engineers thought that they had successfully accomplished and emerging uncertainties finds no salience in the conventional paradigm. Therefore, the need for informed research-based policy reformulation on flood hazards and vulnerability in Pakistan has become more urgent than ever. Such research must focus on the social aspects and the political economy of floods in the Indus basin outside the sphere of irrigation management per se, since there is a massive knowledge gap on the performance of other systems that help build the resilience of marginalised populations. Within this larger reality lie questions of access to services and the resilience of the systems themselves to floods or droughts. Attention needs to be given to how marginalised groups in the population are threatened by major flood events and how floods affect their access to gateway services such as land, water, communication, energy, etc.
The 2010 floods in the Indus recorded as the largest in history, force us to re-examine how we manage and live with the river. While addressing the United Nations General Assembly in connection to the floods the Secretary-General said, “Almost 20 million people need shelter, food and emergency care.
That is more than the entire population hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Kashmir earthquake, Cyclone Nargis, and the earthquake in Haiti—combined.” Although widely devastating, such events also provide an opportunity to study and learn how extreme climate events affect people, and to generate knowledge on how one could start learning to adapt to such events. A large part of this question is also to understand the factors that make people vulnerable to such events and then provide answers to how one could plan to rebuild in a way that those vulnerabilities are minimized. Knowledge generated on certain aspects of the cause and nature of differential impact on different population groups can be beneficial to one of the largest recovery efforts in Pakistan’s history. According to the joint damage needs assessment undertaken by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank for the Government of Pakistan, the recovery would be in the order of US$ 8.74 billion to 10.85 billion. Background and Significance Impelled by ISET’s innovative work on disaster risk reduction in Pakistan for the past four years and more broadly on climate change and adaptation in South Asia, the current research, largely, looks at how such devastating extreme events are studied and the recent floods in 2010, given the scale of social impacts, provided an opportunity to move away from the traditional hydrological/engineering treatment of the subject to look more directly into the social aspects of the problems.
This will provide valuable knowledge for dealing with similar climate-based events in Pakistan or elsewhere. The research project is for the first phase of a program (18 months duration) to support the development of a locally embedded research initiative that examines the events in Indus and the subsequent recovery and reconstruction phase through the lens of core systems that sustain livelihoods –
the ability of different population groups to access these systems and the pressures of climate-related events on these people and systems.
The ISET network has been active in South Asia looking at questions of adaptation and resilience planning and is in one of the pioneers in studying vulnerability to climate change-related risks. The project has been supported jointly by IDRC and DFID.
The general objective of this research is to generate knowledge on climate-related hazards in the Indus Basin in Pakistan and their impact on marginalised communities so that the specific causes for their vulnerability can be identified and strategies to build resilience may be developed.
The core objectives of the research are as follows: to understand the impact and issues in recovery and reconstruction through a rapid synthesis of various situational reports, real time evaluations and other material (newspaper articles etc.) post floods;
The research project focuses heavily on flooding, because of the immediate challenges posed by the events in 2010. It will support the development of a longer-term research program for climate change adaptation capable of producing cutting-edge and locally embedded knowledge. With reference to the reconstruction phase previous learning from research on floods in the region will be collected and assembled in a form that it can feed directly into the reconstruction process in Pakistan.
Information generated early in the programs will also be used to support reconstruction planning and implementation in response to the current floods in Pakistan as a part of the “build back better” strategy.
The research support phase of the program will focus on documenting the factors that contribute to the resilience of core gateway systems. It will also identify key failures and risks in the contexts of floods.
As currently envisioned the deliverables from the project will consist of:
Individuals and organizations involved in ISET all share a commitment to environmentally sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Within this commitment, ISET’s mission seeks to improve understanding and elevate the level of dialogue as civil society attempts to respond to natural resource and environmental challenges in a rapidly changing global context and to serve as a framework for equal collaboration between individuals and organizations in the North and South on programs that address the first mission. ISET-Pakistan (ISET-PK), under the existing setup, will coordinate and implement the activities of the Project. ISET-PK is yet to be established in terms of legal status, during implementation. The Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN) is a non-profit company. RSPN is a strategic platform for rural support programmes (RSPs), it provides capacity-building support to them and assists them in policy advocacy and donor linkages. Since the research will take place in different parts of Pakistan, RSPN will coordinate with the regional support programs to provide input. It will provide a platform for future research and ensure that the findings are shared among all the members of rural support programs across Pakistan. RSPN members have been a major vehicle for the delivery of relief services to flood-affected districts of Pakistan.