Urban Flooding

Jan 28 2021 | 11:03:46
Ms. Aisha Khan, Executive Director, Civil Society Coailition for Climate Change welcomed the panelists. She gave her opening remarks on the subject of urban flooding, stating that it was a grave concern for Pakistan, with multiple episodes now witnessed by its citizens. She stated that the country is one of the fastest urbanizing population, and urban infrastructure is not designed to cope with the challenges posed by climate change, rural outmigration and urban housing demands.   Dr. Noman Ahmed, an architect by profession, served as moderator. He noted the usefulness of this webinar, as the issues to be discussed are multifaceted. He brought to attention the impact of heavy rains on poor urban design by citing the example of fatal electrocutions that could have been avoided with better standards and practices with respect to urban resilience to climate change. He painted the picture of the Karachi 2020 floods, which brought the city to a halt, and required the armed forces to mobilize for rescue operations. He highlighted the need for aligning the urban environment with natural systems to avoid disruptions, such as the Karachi flood. The impacts of urban flooding are adequately controlled when the city design aligns with natural systems, enhancing management of development into account, such as building on flood plains, unregulated development of waterways and the rise in impervious surfaces. Dr. Syed Zahid Aziz, Managing Director, Water & Sanitation Agency, Lahore Development Authority, noted that urban flooding is a phenomenon most apparent during the heavy monsoon rains, due to inadequate infrastructure to move the water away from the urban areas. He presented some conventional methods of storm water removal, including, sewage pumping stations, gravity drains, piped networks and water bodies to drain into. Additionally, he stated that practices such as infiltration into soil and rainwater harvesting should be implemented in Pakistani cities to build water security. He added that other practices that are being planned for Lahore included development of an underground reservoir and temporary reservoirs, such as park areas, car parks and school grounds. However, cost is a significant concern, he noted, pointing to the development of a 27 mile long, 48 meter wide underground rainwater harvesting system in Washington, DC, which cost $2.7 billion for comparison. He noted that a pilot scale project has been implemented in Lawrence Gardens, Lahore. The project stores 1.5 million gallons underground, and has already withstood daily maximum precipitation of 189 mm. The stored water is used for horticulture. Considered a success, Punjab Assembly has approved eight more sites for this mechanism. Dr. Nausheen H. Anwar, Director, Karachi Urban Lab and Professor, City & Regional Planning, School of Economics & Social Sciences, IBA, contextualized the scale and scope of the crisis at hand. While the impacts of climate change are tremendous, she pointed, the true solutions lie in energizing the cities’ deteriorated infrastructure. Alongside funding, accountability must be built into the provision of public services, since people are not tying their urban flooding to a climate issue as much as to a negligence issue. She cited the multiple perspectives on this issue as raising concern over lack of waste collection, the plethora of blocked drains, and haphazard housing development. Solutions are being discussed in the elite decision making circles of politicians, bureaucrats and the military, and there is a disconnect with the people impacted. She ends her argument by stating, what happens when government intervene, especially with the backing of multilateral donor agencies?Engineer Zafar Iqbal, speaking on behalf of Mr. Ahmed Kamal, Chief Engineer, Federal Flood Commission, provided the national level context of water drainage as it relates to urban flooding. He outlined the various data needs for the country to manage water drainage – meteorological parameters and their ranges, population densities, capacity of deteriorated infrastructure, and the natural drainage paths in/around cities. He alluded to the National Water Policy 2018, which specifically mentions Storm Water Management (Article 20.2), in terms of rehabilitation and upgradation of infrastructure, enforcing floodplains delineation, capacity development of WASAs, and promoting bioengineering solutions. While the policy recommendations are approved, the scale of the engineering challenges require political will to implement effectively. The audience raised questions related to investment driven planning and implementation. Panelists noted that investments in creation of temporary water detention ponds, such as on school grounds and car parks in the summer result in development of new areas for economic generation. However, within the domain of urban planning there are multiple stakeholders that fail to be on-boarded, creating new risks as well. The working of the government’s plans are not shared with the variety of people who live along the nullahs in major cities. Demolition drives are being undertaken without informing people of what will be happening to them. There is a sense that pro-poor policies, as required in the policy, are not implemented with transparency and due diligence. Some panelists argued that the open governance remained missing on the impact on specific peoples and groups, particularly the informal sector. Many of these issues are not discussed, rather technocratic solutions depoliticize the role of civil society in decision making. With reference to the role of behavioral change, WASA MD Dr. Syed Zahid Aziz noted that building awareness of waste collection and diversion needed to be undertaken to ensure storm drains remained clear during the rainy seasons. Building trust between citizens and the government through public engagements can drive investments in urban infrastructure rehabilitation/upgradation. Compliance with Environmental Impact Assessments must be revisited to determine methods for improving the process from a public engagement perspective.  Dr. Noman Ahmed concluded the panel discussion by reiterating that urban flooding is not an isolated issue, but one that is the result of systemic issues in urban planning and development domain of Pakistan. Further, there is a need to more beyond singular interventions towards holistic resilience programs with interventions only one part of the urban flood response toolkit.     
Key Takeaways

• Pakistan’s urban flooding phenomenon is not unique. Many major urban centers in Asia face similar predicaments. • The challenges on urban flooding in Pakistan are multifaceted. Decision makers need to tackle not just the climate crisis, but also open governance, with policy implementation urgently needed.
• Interventions are needed at all levels. Planning and implementation must have a more holistic approach and follow the SDGs. • Land-use planning remains the critical element.Development of decision support and decision disclosure tools requires political will, climate sensitization among decision makers. 
• Reducing urban planning to just project development and implementation is not the right approach. Standalone initiatives are not ideal and hurt the connectivity that should be the strength of the overall urban resilience.
• High resolution mapping and updating of urban environment is necessary for building local and national context of decision making. 
• Improve understanding that encroachments occur in all sizes, among all types of income earners. Devise strategies for dealing with the diversity of encroachments.
• Urban policy management must focus on targets set within SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), and establish targets at the district levels for urban environments on the basis of holistic (current and future) needs
• The current urbanizations trajectory of Pakistan is understood to be cross-sectoral in nature, with demand for replication of successful interventions in other cities. Beyond technical and financial support, public engagement on the environmental and social impacts need to be addressed more transparently 
• The national security apparatus of Pakistan must buildemergency response and resiliency capacity at the local level. Flood forecasting and early warning systems need to be integrated into community emergency response. 
• Sustainable investment criteria must be incorporated into policy implementation, including gender mainstreaming, pro-poor decisions, and connectivity between decision makers and beneficiaries.