India and Pakistan hit by devastating floods

The human cost: Could both countries have done more to avoid such devastation? © PA

Over 700,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes as heavy monsoon floods caused havoc in both countries. Can these unfriendly neighbours learn any lessons from the tragedy?

‘We had no warning,’ said Reefat Drabu, who lives in a remote village in mountainous Kashmir. Worried about this year’s monsoon, she called a government advisory service. ‘No worries, stay put,’ it told her. The advice did not seem so sound next morning, when Reefat saw water pouring down her street. She gathered her family together and fled. ‘If we had been there a minute later, we would have been stuck.’

She was relatively lucky. After weeks of heavy monsoon rain, devastating floods have hit northern India and Pakistan, leaving many stranded and without food. Around 400 people have died and tens of thousands have had to be rescued. Further downstream, more than 700,000 people have had to flee their homes.

Citizens in both countries are furious that their governments did not warn them of the danger. While India’s meteorologists knew floods were coming, they failed to pass on the warning to local governments.

While the annual monsoon always brings greater rainfall at this time of year, human development has made dangerous flooding more likely. Large housing complexes have been built on floodplains. Deforestation and the straightening of river banks means water moves faster and has put millions of people at greater risk.

Experts say that, partly as a result of this, last year 5,700 people died after the River Ganges was hit by flash floods. In 2010, the banks of the River Indus broke, flooding an area the size of Britain.

Many hope that some good will come from the latest floods if it brings Pakistan and India closer together. The two countries, both now with nuclear weapons, have been at loggerheads ever since independence in 1947, and a particular flashpoint is Kashmir, which is divided between them along one of the world’s most highly militarised borders.

Relations have been particularly frosty of late, but both leaders have offered to help the other during this crisis. Can lessons be learned and relations healed by this tragedy?

Recurring problems

Some people say the flood devastation and deaths will act as a wake-up call for both countries and make them realise they need to do more to prevent it happening again. Defences need to be improved, trees replanted and nature respected. Both countries should see that they have more to gain from working together than by being enemies.

Yet others are less optimistic. Offers of mutual assistance are just empty talk: Pakistan rejected Indian help after a catastrophic earthquake in 2005 and also rebuffed aid in 2010 and 2014. Lessons have not been learned in the past, so why will this time be different? We can expect similar tales of woe and sour relations in the news next year.

You Decide

  1. Will India and Pakistan learn to prepare for floods better and start cooperating after this tragedy?
  2. ‘Humans are too destructive, they will never learn to be at peace with the environment.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In groups, imagine you are members of the governments in India and Pakistan. Draw up a list of six steps that would help to prevent floods like this happening again. Compare with the class.
  2. Research relations between India and Pakistan and make a presentation on what the key issues are. Make a prediction of whether things will likely improve in the future.

Some People Say...

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’George Santayana”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m tired of hearing about floods every year.
Perhaps the saddest thing about the recent floods is how predictable they were. Some in the Indian and Pakistani elites believe that building developers have too much power in their countries and that things will only improve when governments reform planning laws.
Are relations likely to improve between India and Pakistan?
Soon after both leaders exchanged messages of support, relations appeared to break down. The leader of the Kashmir-based Islamist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, has blamed the flooding on the Indian government, and many Indians feel that Pakistan is not really interested in helping them. Unfortunately, the bad blood is likely to continue.

Word Watch

Monsoon
A seasonal wind that typically brings with it heavy rain. South Asia’s monsoon has been unusually heavy this year.
Meteorologists
Meteorology is the study of the atmosphere. Indian and Pakistani authorities have also been heavily criticised for not having emergency rescue teams ready to respond to the crisis in time.
Ganges
The Ganges is sacred to Hindus and is worshipped as a goddess. The river is a lifeline for millions in India, yet it was ranked as the world’s seventh most polluted in 2007.
Independence
The British Empire used to control much of the territory that now makes up India and Pakistan. At independence in 1947, India and Pakistan became separate countries, with India predominantly Hindu and Pakistan Muslim.
Kashmir
Kashmir is one of the world’s most disputed regions. Both India and Pakistan claim it for their own and tension has escalated into war three times since independence.
Earthquake
The earthquake primarily struck Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and it is estimated that 100,000 people were killed. Pakistan was too wary of India to allow Indian aid teams to cross the border.

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