The July 2010 flooding of the Indus River Basin in Pakistan was one of the most devastating natural disasters in recorded history. Now, researchers are working with communities to help reduce their vulnerability to future extreme weather events.

Credit: Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN/flickr

The unusually heavy monsoon rains that overwhelmed waterways and swamped communities affected an estimated 20 million people and killed almost 2,000. Floodwaters submerged 20% of the largely agricultural country for weeks. The World Bank estimated recovery costs at US$10 billion. The catastrophe highlighted the need to understand the potential impacts of climate change on Pakistan’s food and water security. It also pointed to the need for more effective disaster-response strategies.

In the aftermath of the crisis, restoration efforts focused on rebuilding “as was,” rather than addressing social vulnerability. In 2011, the Institute of Social and Environmental Transition (ISET) and its Islamabad-based affiliate, ISET-Pakistan, launched an 18-month scoping study to examine the disaster from an economic and social perspective.

That study, funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, assessed the relief and reconstruction efforts of key players in the Indus Basin. Researchers explored the factors that had increased communities’ vulnerability to flooding, such as the uncontrolled development of irrigation and drainage structures. They sought to understand the gender-related factors that influenced coping and recovery strategies for women and men. And they looked at the ability of various governmental and non-governmental organizations to respond.

The researchers found that households with six or fewer members and access to diversified incomes, assets, and services (such as safe housing, energy, water and food, transport and communication) were better able to cope with the floods. Other key supports for vulnerable communities included access to health care, financial social-safety nets, education, off-farm employment, and social networks.

For further information contact:
Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé
International Development Research Centre, Canada
Email: ibourgeault-tasse@idrc.ca