Floods and ﬂood management in Pakistan
Muhammad Atiq Ur Rehman Tariq
, Nick van de Giesen
Water Resources Management Section, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands
Available online 3 September 2011
Makran Coastal Area
Flooding is the most devastating natural hazard in Pakistan and the recent ﬂooding has demonstrated its
severeness. Floods are common throughout the country. However, their characteristics differ from region
to region. Flooding behavior of the major basins and ﬂood management at the national level are investi-
gated in this article. Monsoon rainfalls are the main source of ﬂoods in the Indus Basin, while Mediter-
ranean Waves and Cyclones, which are generated over the Arabian Sea, induce ﬂooding in the Kharan
Basin and the Makran Coastal Area. Fluvial ﬂoods in the Indus Basin have caused major economic losses.
Pakistan’s government has spent vast resources on relief operations and ﬂood works since the country
came into existence in 1947. A number of provincial and federal acts, ordinances, accords, and treaties
shape the national ﬂood policy. Institutional setup for ﬂood hazard and crisis management has evolved
over the years. Nevertheless, data show no major reduction in the ﬂood-to-damage ratio. The inter-link-
age of structural and non-structural measures and their combined efﬁciency must be analyzed and opti-
mized for more effective ﬂood management.
Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
In August 2010, Pakistan suffered one of the most severe ﬂoods
in its history. Floods are the most frequently occurring and damag-
ing natural hazards in the country. Of all population who are af-
fected by natural hazards, 90% are subjected to ﬂooding (Haider,
2006). In the recent ﬂooding, almost 1800 persons died and ﬁnan-
cial damages were in the range of tens of billions US dollars.
According to available ofﬁcial statistics, about 8000 people lost
their lives and economical losses amounted to approximately $10
billion between independence in 1947 and the 2010 ﬂooding (Baig,
2008). These estimates are carried out at the local administration
level and uncertainty in these values is unknown. Although no ma-
jor ﬂood had occurred since 1995, the devastating ﬂooding in 2010
demonstrated the continuous presence of ﬂood risks.
The nature of ﬂooding varies according to geography. Fluvial
ﬂoods in the Indus plain prove most devastating as the terrain is ﬂat,
densely populated, and economically developed. Hill torrents (ﬂash
ﬂooding) are the second most destructive type of ﬂood. Hill torrents
threaten large areas of the country (Fig. 1) and claim human lives
most frequently. Floods due to cyclones and intensive localized rain
are dominant at other locations. Exceptionally high ﬂoods have also
occurred due to the breaching of some of the small dams, e.g. the Sha-
di Kor dam in Pasni, which breached on February 11, 2005, washing
away more than 135 people (IFRC, 2005; Javed and Baig, 2005).
The hydrology of ﬂoods is linked to weather and climate as well
as to physiographic features (Shah and Gabriel, 2002). A brief over-
view of related geographical features is provided to interpret the
ﬂooding characteristics. The country can be divided into three
physiographical regions (Framji and Mahajan, 1969):
(i) Mountains in the north and north-west 241,647 km
(ii) Plateau of Baluchistan in the south-west 242,683 km
(iii) Indus River plains 311,766 km
The spatial variability of rainfall throughout the country is high.
Of the total area, 59.3% can be classiﬁed as rangeland, which re-
ceives less than 200 mm annual rainfall (Umrani, 2001; ISDR,
2005). In the north of the country, the Himalaya Range receives an-
nual rainfall between 760 mm and 1270 mm (ISDR, 2005) and con-
tributes almost 72% of the mean annual ﬂow in the Indus River
System (WWF, 2010). These rainfall data are based on the national
meteorological network. The spatial distribution of stations over
the country is not uniform. Stations in developed areas and mete-
orologically important locations generally comply with World
Meteorological Organization (WMO) standards. Southern Punjab,
Baluchistan, and northern Sindh receive the lowest amounts of
rain. Rainfall increases again towards the coast. Three types of
weather systems inﬂuence the precipitation in catchments which
produce ﬂoods in Pakistan. These weather systems are
(i) Monsoon depressions originating from the Bay of Bengal
(the most important system).
(ii) Westerly waves coming from the Mediterranean Sea (Winter
1474-7065/$ - see front matter Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author. Address: Room 4.91, Building of Civil Engineering and
Geosciences, Stevinweg 1, 2628CN, Delft, The Netherlands.
E-mail addresses: Atiq.Tariq@yahoo.com (M.A.U.R. Tariq), N.C.vandeGiesen@
TUDelft.NL (N. van de Giesen).
Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 47–48 (2012) 11–20
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(iii) Seasonal lows from the Arabian Sea (Cyclones).
The country has four distinct climate seasons. April, May, and
June are extremely hot and dry months. July, August, and Septem-
ber are hot and humid with intense heat and heavy but scattered
rainfall (monsoon). The cool and dry period starts in October and
continues through November. December, January, and February
are the coldest months of the year.
Hydrologically, the country can be divided into three major
units: Indus Basin, Kharan Basin, and Makran Coastal drainage
area. Flooding characteristics of these basins vary greatly and re-
quire in-depth understanding.
2. Fluvial ﬂoods in the Indus Basin
The total watershed area of the Indus is 944,000 km
, 60% of
which lies in Pakistan (MoE, 2003). The Indus, with its major trib-
utaries Jhelum, Chenab, Sutlej, and Ravi, has an average annual
ﬂow of 175 km
/yr. Table 1 presents a brief overview of the major
rivers in the Indus Basin.
Seasonally, ﬂows ﬂuctuate from 3000 m
/s to 34,000 m
(FFC, 2009). Annual river ﬂows at rim stations (ﬁrst gauging sta-
tion after a river enters into Pakistan) ﬂuctuate between
/yr and 230 km
/yr (MoWP, 2002b). Rainfall in the Indus
Basin occurs during the monsoon and cold weather seasons, but
severe ﬂoods only occur in the monsoon season. High ﬂows are
experienced in the summer due to the increased rate of snow-
melts and monsoon rainfalls. About 82% of the annual water
ﬂows during the summer months (MoWP, 2002c). In this period,
heavy rainfall in the upper catchments located across the border
in Kashmir (Indian) often causes ﬂoods. Sometimes heavy
showers occur in areas just within Pakistan. As a consequence,
the rivers expand into their entire ﬂoodplains. The ﬂooding
behavior of the major rivers differs according to catchment char-
acteristics and the types of installed river training facilities. In
low elevation catchments (Sutlej, Ravi, and Jhelum), maximum
snowmelt occurs in April–June and does not coincide with the
D.G. Khan Dera Ghazi Khan
EIRR Economic Internal Rate of Return
FEWS Flood Early Warning System
FFC Federal Flood Commission
FPSP Flood Protection Sector Project
NADP Normal Annual Development Plan
NESPak National Engineering Services Pakistan
NWFP North West Frontier Province
PKR Pakistani Rupee (currency unit)
$ United States Dollar
WAPDA Water And Power Development Authority
WMO World Meteorological Organization
1$ 80 Pakistani Rupees
Fig. 1. Map of Pakistan showing main hydrological and geopolitical features.
12 M.A.U.R. Tariq, N. van de Giesen / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 47–48 (2012) 11–20
monsoon rains (July through September). In high altitude catch-
ments (Indus and Chenab), snowmelt contributes signiﬁcantly
to ﬂood ﬂows. Maximum snowmelt in the Indus and Chenab ba-
sins is experienced in July and ﬂoods of high magnitude are gen-
erated due to monsoon rainfalls. The ﬂood peaks of the different
rivers usually do not coincide. However, when they do coincide,
widespread ﬂooding occurs.
Floods in the Indus and Jhelum basins are largely controlled
by the Tarbela and Mangla dams. There is almost no control
(in Pakistan) over the Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej rivers, which re-
sults in ﬂooding problems in monsoon season. The Chenab has
historically given rise to the most ﬂoods (Fig. 2) because of the
lack of any controlling structures and large ﬂows induced by
the combination of rain and snowmelt. India owns the exclusive
water rights of the Ravi and Sutlej rivers under the Indus Water
Treaty (1960). Because of that, there is practically very little ﬂow
in these rivers (Haq and Nasir, 2003). Average annual ﬂows ob-
served at the rim stations are about 3.15 km
/yr in the Ravi Riv-
er and 0.02 km
/yr in the Sutlej River (Mir et al., 2010). Floods of
higher intensity are observed on the Ravi River after the Treaty.
According to annual peak ﬂows data at the Balloki Barrage, of
the seven most severe ﬂoods on the Ravi River (1922–2004),
six ﬂoods occurred after effectuation of this treaty in 1973.
The reason behind this increase is not known and should be sub-
ject of further study. The decreasing width of these rivers and
vanishing ﬂows encourage encroachments for residential and
industrial purposes, but an episode of severe ﬂood may wipe
out these developments.
In the upper and mid reaches of the Indus Basin, it is generally
the tributaries like the Jhelum and the Chenab rivers that cause
ﬂooding rather than the Indus River itself. Since these rivers are
also snow-fed, an early monsoon may combine with peak snow-
melt runoff to exacerbate ﬂooding. Generally, heavy rainfalls are
limited to the Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, and Sutlej River catchments.
Occasionally, low atmospheric pressure crosses further north into
the Indus River catchment like in the recent case of ﬂooding.
Intense rainfall produced exceptionally high ﬂood peaks, which re-
sulted in ﬂash ﬂooding in North West Frontier Province (NWFP,
now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) and ﬂuvial ﬂooding in Punjab and
Sindh provinces. Fluvial ﬂooding caused losses by inundating large
agricultural and residential areas, by damaging lifelines and pow-
erhouses, and by eroding land along the riverbanks.
The nature of ﬂuvial ﬂoods in the upper Indus Plain differs from
that of the lower Indus Plain. In the upper Indus, the bed level is
lower than the adjoining lands. When a ﬂood occurs, ﬂoodwater
spilling over the riverbanks generally returns to the rivers in the
upper part of the Indus Basin. However, in the lower part of the In-
dus in Sindh province, spills do not return to the river. This lack of
return ﬂow extends the duration of inundation, resulting in larger
damages. Although ﬂood protection by embankments has been
provided along almost the entire length in Sindh province and at
many locations in the upper areas, bund breaches can still occur
(Haq and Nasir, 2003; Khan, 2007b; FFC, 2009). Such breaches of-
ten cause greater damage than would have occurred without
bunds because of their unexpected nature and intensiﬁcation of
land use following the provision of ﬂood protection.
Main features of the Indus River System. Sources: WAPDA annual report 2000, FPSP-II/C report 2008, and FFC annual report 2008.
Sutlej Ravi Chenab Jhelum Indus
Origin Tibet HP
Discharge to Chenab Chenab Indus Chenab Arabian Sea
Length (km) 1500 900 1240 820 3200
Basin area (km
) 122,000 40,000 67,500 63,500 727,000
Avg. annual ﬂow (km
/yr) 3.05 4.46 25.17 24.33 83.15
Dams in India Bhakra, Pong
Thein Salal, Baglihar – –
Dams in Pakistan – – – Mangla Tarbela
No. of barrages 2 2 5 1 6
Himachal Pradesh, India.
Pong Dam on the Beas River (Major tributary of the Sutlej River).
Fig. 2. Annual peak ﬂow data of main rivers (1921–2010).
M.A.U.R. Tariq, N. van de Giesen / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 47–48 (2012) 11–20
3. Flash ﬂoods in the Indus and Kharan basins
Flash ﬂoods typically hit the hilly areas of NWFP, Baluchistan,
Kashmir, and Punjab. Kashmir and NWFP receive high average an-
nual rainfall, whereas the steep and barren terrain of Baluchistan
and Dera Ghazi Khan (D.G. Khan) watersheds typically produce se-
vere ﬂash ﬂoods, causing damage to infrastructure, settlements,
and loss of human and animal lives. Flash ﬂooding in the Indus Ba-
sin, is conﬁned to the tributaries of the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab
rivers. Most areas in NWFP, Kashmir, and Baluchistan and some
areas in Punjab endure ﬂash ﬂoods. Flash ﬂoods are relatively
lethal, e.g., more than 230 people died due to ﬂash ﬂoods in the
Pothohar Plateau (Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and NWFP areas) in
2001 (IFRC, 2002). According to ﬂood loss data of the Federal Flood
Commission (FFC), about 60% of the casualties were reported in
NWFP during the 2010 ﬂood due to ﬂash ﬂooding. Consolidated
economic loss and casualty data has not been compiled nationwide
and very little ﬂood discharge data for hill torrents is available. It is
extremely difﬁcult to measure such peak ﬂows with conventional
methods due to their short duration and their unpredictability.
Floods in the NWFP are mainly hill torrents due to steep bed
slopes, which greatly increase ﬂood velocity and severely erode
the banks. To save the areas from erosion, spurs have been con-
structed by the provincial government with the funds provided
by the federal government. Fluvial ﬂoods in NWFP are limited to
Nowshera and some parts of Charsadda, Peshawar (by the Kabul
River), and Dera Ismail Khan (by the Indus River). In the rest of
NWFP, ﬂash ﬂooding is a common disaster along with landslides
and torrential rains (PMD, 2009). Some dikes have been provided
for ﬂood diversion or abatement and to minimize the effects of tor-
rential rains and consequent ﬂoods. Other severe ﬂash ﬂooding oc-
curs in Dera Ismail Khan along the Indus. These hill torrents have
an average annual ﬂow of about 1 km
/yr (MoWP, 2002a). A bat-
tery of spurs has been constructed on the right bank of the Indus
River (FFC, 2009). Large numbers of spurs and a few embankments
have been constructed along the Swat, Kurrum, and Kabul rivers
and their tributaries.
The area of the Pothohar plateau (in north Punjab) often expe-
riences ﬂash ﬂooding. Islamabad and Rawalpindi have endured
ﬂash ﬂoods from the Nullah Lai, which nearly ﬂows through the
centers of both cities. The low-lying areas in Rawalpindi along
the Nullah Lai are even affected by small ﬂoods. Extreme ﬂoods
in Nullah Lai were observed in 1981, 1988, 1997, and 2001 (Kamal,
2004). The hill torrents generated in Suleiman Ranges (Baluchistan
and Afghanistan) hit the districts of D.G. Khan, Layyah, and Rajan-
pur in Punjab province. As the catchment area that generates tor-
rents is quite far away from the above mentioned districts,
sometimes, weather conditions in the catchment area and affected
areas are very different. In such cases, these torrents appear with-
out any weather symptom or warning sign. D.G. Khan hill torrents
have an average annual ﬂow of 1 km
/yr (MoWP, 2002a). These
ﬂoods have destroyed bridges, settlements, and agricultural land
along riverbanks and have deposited huge amounts of debris into
All of Baluchistan Province, with its barren and steep land, is
subject to hill torrents. The Nari, Kaha, and Gaj rivers are part of
the Indus drainage system located in the north-eastern edges of
the province. Contrary to the rest of Baluchistan, the Kachi area
is highly fertile and needs ﬂoods for irrigation (Jarrige, 1997).
Kharan Basin (within Pakistan) covers an area of 121,860 km
and includes part of the Kharan Desert and Pishin Basin in west
Baluchistan. Average annual rainfall throughout the desert is less
than 100 mm (Khosa, 2000) and average inland drainage is about
/yr (Shah and Gabriel, 2002; UNITAR, 2004). The ﬂow regime
in the rivers is typiﬁed by spring runoff and occasional ﬂash ﬂoods
caused by Westerly waves during the winter months. The river
beds are dry for most of the year. Intense ﬂash ﬂoods do occur
but are infrequent. Some bunds have been constructed to serve
as ﬂood diversion or abatement measures. During a severe ﬂood,
most of the embankments and ﬂood walls constructed to protect
orchards or abadies (residential areas) are washed away. As ﬂash
ﬂoods of high intensity are rare, people are not prepared for disas-
ter responses, which results in more destruction and losses.
Pishin Lora Basin is a major river basin in Baluchistan
with 10 sub-basins) spread over ﬁve districts with a
total population of about 1.2 million (ADB, 2008). As this basin cov-
ers the area with Baluchistan’s main economic activities and high
population concentration, the disturbance due to ﬂoods is high.
4. Floods due to cyclones in Makran Coastal Area
The coastal area of Pakistan stretches over a length of 1046 km
between 62°E and 68°E(Rehman and Bhattarai, 2005). Makran in
the south of Baluchistan is a semi-desert coastal strip with an area
of 123,025 km
and a length of 750 km along the Arabian Sea (Shah
and Gabriel, 2002). The region is sparsely populated, with much of
the population being concentrated in small ports and ﬁshing vil-
lages. Away from the coast, the narrow coastal plain rises very rap-
idly into several mountain ranges. The entire length of the
coastline is subjected to tropical cyclones. The Makran Coastal Ba-
sin includes the Dasht, Hingol, and Porali rivers, which discharge
individually into the Arabian Sea (MoWP, 2002a) with an average
annual ﬂow of 3.5 km
/yr. The climate is dry with very little rainfall
and can be classiﬁed as arid with warm summers and mild winters.
The monsoon rainfall increases with the increase in longitude
along the coastline, whereas winter rainfall decreases with the in-
crease in longitude. The average annual rainfall is approximately
150 mm or even less along the Makran Coast.
Floods in coastal areas are associated with cyclones and high
tides. The Makran Coastal Areas have occasionally been hit by se-
vere cyclones. Cyclones generated in the Arabian Sea produce tor-
rential rains throughout the region. One cyclone is expected per
year in the Arabian Sea. About 75% of these cyclones end up at
the Omani coast on the western Arabian Sea and the remaining
25% curve clockwise and cross the coast near the Rann of Kutch
(MoE, 2003). No severe tidal ﬂoods have been recorded so far.
The coastal areas of Sindh are the most vulnerable and most ex-
posed to cyclones. The period from 1971 to 2001 saw 14 cyclones
(ISDR, 2005). One severe cyclone in 1997 impacted Makran (Gawa-
dar and Kech) and then crossed into the Kharan Basin up to the
Chaghai and Dalbadin districts. The Nihang and Kech rivers caused
widespread ﬂooding in a region approximating 8000 km
2009). The recent ﬂoods due to two consecutive cyclones caused
tremendous damage. Cyclone Gonu struck the coast on June 4,
2007 and inﬂicted damage in the Sur Bandar area of Gawadar
(Khan, 2007a). Cyclone Yemyin on June 26, 2007 is among the
worst recorded so far. It affected 2.5 million people and made
250,000 homeless (UNESCO, 2007). The cyclone hit the catchment
area of the Mirani Dam (Dasht River). Substantial rainfall occurred
during the storm, causing serious ﬂooding in the Dasht River. The
Pakistan Meteorological Department data showed rainfall of
172 mm over the storm period (2 days) at Turbat Airport in Baluch-
istan. The rainfall event was the highest rainfall recorded in the last
90 years (NDMA, 2007). The storm moved from east to west, mov-
ing from the Kech River’s catchment to the Nihing River’s catch-
ment, the two main tributaries of Dasht River. As mentioned
earlier, intense cyclones do not occur often, but they can cause
large-scale damage and cyclone Yemyin was one such example.
This cyclone caused ﬂash ﬂooding in various districts of the
Baluchistan and Sindh provinces.
14 M.A.U.R. Tariq, N. van de Giesen / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 47–48 (2012) 11–20
5. Flood management arrangements
After independence, devastating ﬂoods occurred in 1950, 1956,
and 1957. Due to limited resources and institutional arrangements,
no comprehensive ﬂood management plan was initiated at the na-
tional level. Until 1976, ﬂood protection and management was the
sole responsibility of provincial governments. This changed after
the annihilating ﬂoods of 1973, which claimed 474 lives and
caused damages of 160 billion Pakistani Rupees (PKR) (approxi-
mately $2 billion) (FFC, 2009). A uniﬁed countrywide approach
was initiated to manage the ﬂood problem. As a result, a long-term
principal plan was prepared in 1978 at the national level. The pres-
ent ﬂood management arrangements can be discussed under three
1. Flood management measures.
2. Legislative framework.
3. Institutional setup.
5.1. Flood management measures
The ﬂood management measures in Pakistan are mainly com-
prised of ﬂood protection embankments, spurs, studs, and ad-
vanced ﬂood-forecasting techniques. Various ﬂood protection
structures were built by the provincial governments to solve local
ﬂood problems (Baig, 2008). Since the establishment of FFC in
1977, ﬂood management has been practiced according to an inte-
grated approach at the national level. A long-term National Flood
Protection Plan (NFPP) was prepared in 1978. The NFPP contained
phased implementation in the form of sub-plans known as the
‘‘ten-year National Flood Protection Plans’’ (NFPPs). An estimated
expenditure of over PKR 17.8 billion (approximately $220 million)
has been spent on ﬂood works, rescue and relief not included,
under different programs since 1977 (FFC, 2009). A number of
ﬂood protection works have been completed and some are still
in the implementation phase. The provinces receive ﬁnancial and
technical support provided by the FFC to address the ﬂooding
So far, three NFPPs have been executed covering periods from
1978 to 1987 (NFPP-I), 1988 to 1997 (NFPP-II), and 1998 to 2007
(NFPP-III). Under NFPP-I, 350 ﬂood protection schemes (individual
structure repaired or constructed) were implemented at a cost of
PKR 1.73 billion (approximately $22 million) (Shaikh, 2008).
NFPP-II was carried out under two sub-projects, namely, the Nor-
mal Annual Development Plan (NADP) and the Flood Protection
Sector Project-I (FPSP-I). Under FPSP-I, 170 schemes (costing PKR
2541 million, approximately $32 million) have been completed un-
der the NADP and 257 schemes (costing PKR 4860 million, approx-
imately $61 million) have been executed. Three sub-projects were
carried out under NFPP-III (1998–2007). 101 schemes (costing PKR
4165 million, approximately $52 million) under FPSP-II, 362
schemes (costing PKR 3415 million, approximately $43 million)
under the NADP and development of a ﬂood forecasting and warn-
ing system for Lai Nullah in Islamabad/Rawalpindi (PKR 348 mil-
lion, approximately $4.5 million) have been completed for this
plan (FFC, 2009). These plans have been ﬁnanced by the govern-
ment and some donor agencies. The execution of the ﬂood protec-
tion works is the responsibility of the provincial agencies, while
decision making and control of funds lie with the federal govern-
ment. The approving authority for each single sub-project is also
the federal government. About PKR 17.8 billion (unadjusted,
approximately $222 million) has been spent on ﬂood management
measures since 1977 and about PKR 30 billion (approximately
$375 million) is planned for NFPP-IV (2008–2017) (Shaikh, 2008;
FFC, 2009). Financial resources, employed in rescue, relief, and
rehabilitation process are used in addition to the above-mentioned
According to the planning and approval criteria of the FFC, new
ﬂood projects are executed under two categories: either need-
based measures to address local ﬂood problems or integrated mea-
sures under the NFPP. Priorities are given to those measures which
serve areas of high economic losses, human suffering, and socially
and economically vulnerable groups. Since the NFPP plans are
mostly ﬁnanced through loans from the Asian Development Bank,
the measures are not sanctioned unless they have an economic
internal rate of return (EIRR) of at least 12% (FFC, 2009) in compli-
ance with bank criteria. The EIRR of a project can be deﬁned as the
average annual effective compounded return rate of investments.
EIRR serves to enable a direct comparison of investments and ben-
eﬁts, which typically have a different temporal distribution. EIRR is
very common indicator in a cost-beneﬁt analysis. Protection stan-
dards adopted in Pakistan are 50-years for ﬂood protection struc-
tures and 100-years for vital river training structures and bridges
(Halcrow et al., 2001). The planning and approval criteria are the
same throughout the country, but there are different practices lo-
cally in design, construction, and maintenance of bunds, studs,
5.1.1. Structural measures
Numerous efforts have been made in the past to train rivers and
protect the adjoining areas from river erosion and ﬂood damages,
but large-scale variations in river discharge and sediment concen-
trations have led to eroding river plains. Traditionally, ﬂood man-
agement has relied heavily on the provision of structural
measures for ﬂood containment. Structural measures are em-
ployed on a large-scale and include construction of embankments,
spurs, dikes, gabion walls, ﬂoodwalls, dispersions, diversion struc-
tures, delay action dams, bypass-structures, and channelization of
ﬂoodwaters. River training has mainly been executed with the help
of embankments and spurs. Embankments are constructed wher-
ever over-bank ﬂooding is the major problem and spurs are con-
structed to counter land erosion and regulate the river’s main
course. About 6719 km of embankments have been constructed
along major rivers and their tributaries. In addition, more than
1375 spurs have been constructed to protect these embankments
(FFC, 2009). Details of embankments and spurs at provincial and
national levels are provided in Table 2. Economical and efﬁcient
measures have been implemented based on their suitability for lo-
cal conditions. For the most part, earthen dikes have been con-
structed along the main rivers.
Flood protection bunds have generally been constructed either
to protect headworks, irrigation structures, or certain towns and
villages. Controlled breaching of embankments is also practiced
to avoid unwanted breach. In the upper Indus Basin, the main riv-
ers ﬂow in a south-west direction. The general slope is southwards,
meaning that most of the canals stem from the left banks of the riv-
ers. Breaching is usually produced on the right banks to avoid dev-
astation, as most of the development is also on the left side where
the canal irrigation system is located. A double line of ﬂood
embankments have been constructed along (almost) both banks
of the Indus in Sindh province stretching from the Guddu Barrage
Details of embankments and spurs at the provincial and national levels. Sources: FFC
annual report 2008.
Province Embankments (km) Spurs (No.)
Punjab 3334 494
Sindh 2422 46
NWFP 361 185
Baluchistan 602 650
Total in Pakistan 6719 1375
M.A.U.R. Tariq, N. van de Giesen / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 47–48 (2012) 11–20
to a few kilometers before the river forms its delta. The embank-
ments have been further compartmentalized to contain
Floods in the upper reaches of the Indus and Jhelum rivers have
been attenuated since the construction of the Mangla and Tarbela
dams in 1967 and 1974, respectively. Though the storage capaci-
ties of these dams are decreasing due to sedimentation, they still
play an important role in ﬂood management. The useful lives of
these dams are expected to expire in 2050 and 2060 for Mangla
and Tarbela dams respectively (MoWP, 2002c; Haq and Abbas,
2008; Hashmi et al., 2009). Their effectiveness in ﬂood control is
subject to their storage capacities, adopted reservoir operation
practices, and intensities of ﬂoods. Although these dams are multi-
purpose, their prime function is to store water for irrigation and
power generation. The operation planning of these dams has not
yet been optimized to control ﬂoods downstream.
The Mirani Dam was constructed in 2006 on the Dasht River for
the storage of hill torrent water for irrigation purposes in Baluch-
istan. It enabled irrigation supplies on both sides of the river and
minimized ﬂood damages in the ﬂoodplain (Majeed and Khan,
2008). About 12 sub-projects of protecting bunds and delay action
dams were constructed in Baluchistan under FPSP-II (Contijoch,
2008). The harnessing of hill torrents in D.G. Khan has also been
studied by the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPak)
in 1984 and by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in
1992 (MoWP, 2002b). NESPak accomplished another countrywide
feasibility study on hill torrents in 1998. The study area was di-
vided into 14 hill torrent zones in the Federal Areas, NWFP, Punjab,
Sindh, and Baluchistan (Fig. 1). Structural work has been com-
pleted in a few sub-zones of D.G. Khan (e.g., Kaha and Mithawan).
5.1.2. Non-structural measures
All the major rivers in Pakistan are trans-boundary and ﬂow
through India. The shape of a ﬂood wave mainly depends upon
water management practices in the watershed and upstream oper-
ations. Being a low riparian country, ﬂood management options are
limited and ﬂood prediction is complicated in Pakistan. Therefore,
main emphases have been put on precise ﬂood forecasting and an
early warning system. Flood warning is mainly the responsibility of
the Flood Forecasting Division of Pakistan Meteorological Depart-
ment but the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA)
also contributes to improve the ability to forecast. The ﬂood early
warning system was initiated in 1975 when a real-time VHF telem-
etry system was introduced for hydrological data collection from
16 river gauges and 24 rain gauges (Fig. 3)(NESPak, 2008). A total
of about 40 stations were established at all rim stations and within
the Mangla Dam catchment area. The number was gradually re-
duced to about 20 due to maintenance problems. The Flood Early
Warning System (FEWS) was updated under FPSP-II in 1998 in
cooperation with the NESPak-Deltares Consortium. FEWS is a
physically-based hydrodynamic model using real-time data. The
meteor-burst based communication system was integrated into
the FEWS through the WAPDA’s ‘‘Surface Water Hydrology Project’’
in 1998. About 22 high frequency radio sets were installed to serve
as a double support for automatic gauging and the telemetry sys-
tem (ADB, 2008). The high frequency radio system works as a back-
up for telemetry and the meteor burst system.
Currently, comprehensive and effective land-use planning con-
trols do not exist in Pakistan. Development of ﬂood risk zoning for
the main rivers was initiated under FPSP-II. So far, hazard maps for
5-year and 50-year return periods have been compiled. Calibration
and risk assessment of these maps is planned in the forthcoming
NPFP. Interpretation and legislation regarding ﬂood zoning will
be carried out afterwards.
The larger and more productive part of the ﬂood-producing
upper catchments of the Sutlej, Ravi, and Chenab rivers lies across
the border in Kashmir (Indian) (Fig. 3). Precise and timely
measurement of precipitation in those areas is critical for effective
Fig. 3. Locations of telemetric gages, HF radios, weather radars, and river structures.
16 M.A.U.R. Tariq, N. van de Giesen / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 47–48 (2012) 11–20
functioning of FEWS. A weather radar unit at Sialkot was installed
with the ability to detect the position of clouds and precipitation
within a radius of 230 km. This radar covers catchment areas of
about 17 tributaries. A 10 cm S-band Doppler Weather Surveillance
Radar unit, installed in 1997 at Lahore, provides rainfall data about
the Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, and Chenab catchments from across the bor-
der (NESPak, 2008). Floods in the Jhelum River occur mainly due to
heavy rainfall with very short lead-time. Therefore, a weather ra-
dar unit at Mangla was put up during FPSP II to provide quantita-
tive rainfall forecasts. More radar units have been planned to cover
the hill torrent generating catchments of D.G. Khan, NWFP, and
A number of control structures have been constructed in India,
making the operation of rainfall or runoff models more compli-
cated. An agreement was signed in 1989 between the two coun-
tries to share river ﬂow and rainfall data for ﬂood forecasting
(Awan, 2003). The ‘‘zero ﬂood warning’’ manual was also accom-
plished to homogenize the ﬂood warning procedures and emer-
gency action plans under FPSP II (Awan, 2003; FFC, 2007).
Tackling the ﬂood problem within ﬂood managing bodies seems
to become a smoother and better organized process. The setting
up of standard operating procedures may produce better inter-
agency cooperation and coordination.
The Mangla and Tarbela dams were constructed for irrigation
and power generation operations. Current reservoir operation
practices do not play any substantial role in ﬂood management.
The clear example is the recent ﬂooding 2010, in which the Tarbela
dam did not play any signiﬁcant role in reducing ﬂooding down-
stream. Improved reservoir operation of the Mangla dam to facili-
tate ﬂood management was included in FPSP-II, but now has been
postponed due to a Mangla dam raising project. Pre-ﬂood releases
on the basis of the ﬂood forecasts can create required ﬂood storage
capacity. Improved planning of reservoir operations for the Mangla
and Tarbela dams is included in the next NFPP to enhance their role
in ﬂood management.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department issues daily satellite
cloud pictures from the polar orbiting meteorological satellites
on its website to inform the general public. In case of cyclones,
warnings are issued quickly. Cyclone detection radar is used for
tropical cyclone monitoring. Japan has donated radar equipment
to the WMO regional center for Bangladesh and Pakistan. This ra-
dar had contributed substantially to the detection, monitoring,
and forecasting of tropical cyclones in the country. Pakistan is a
member of the WMO and the ESCAP (Economic and Social Com-
mission for Asia and the Paciﬁc) Panel on Tropical Cyclones which
aims to promote measures to improve tropical cyclone warning
systems in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. A technical plan
aimed at the development and improvement of the cyclone warn-
ing system in the region has been drawn up by the panel (WMO,
5.2. Legal framework
According to the Constitution of Pakistan, water is a provincial
government responsibility, but the federal government also per-
forms a number of tasks and responsibilities in the water sector,
mostly relating to international and inter-provincial matters. The
federal government, through the WAPDA, the Indus River System
Authority (IRSA), and the FFC performs coordinated planning,
development, and management of water and hydropower re-
sources. The legal framework for carrying out these tasks is pro-
vided by the WAPDA Act (1958), the Environmental Protection
Act (1997), the Indus River System Authority Act (1992), and by
the Constitution under various articles on inter-provincial coordi-
nation and resolution of conﬂicts through the Council of Common
Recent policies dealing with crises are the Emergency Services
Ordinance (2002) and National Disaster Management Ordinance
(2006), which provide the national strategy for dealing with emer-
gencies. A Draft National Water Policy by the Ministry of Water
and Power (MoWP) in 2002 was prepared to address most of the
water-related issues in the country, including ﬂooding. This policy
emphasizes all necessary structural and non-structural measures
for ﬂood management and the need for stakeholder participation
in the ﬂood management process, as well as enhanced ﬂood aware-
ness in the community. It also recommends replacement of various
water-related acts with a simple uniﬁed law that enables clearer
understanding and subsequent application of the law (Rehman
and Kamal, 2005). A number of strategies, visions, initiatives, and
plans have also been prepared, including the Ten Year Perspective
Plan (by the Planning Commission in 2001) and Vision 2025 (by
the WAPDA in 2001).
Pakistan has a very important agreement with neighboring In-
dia. The partition of the subcontinent created a conﬂict over the
water distribution rights of the Indus Basin. This trans-boundary
water issue between Pakistan and India was addressed with a tem-
porary ‘‘Standstill agreement 1947’’, the ‘‘Inter-Dominion Accord
1948’’, and eventually the Indus Water Treaty, which was signed
with the help of the World Bank in 1960. Six main rivers, the Indus,
Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej, along with their tributaries,
are covered in this agreement. According to this treaty, the exclu-
sive rights of water use for the three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum,
and Chenab) were given to Pakistan and rights for three eastern
rivers (Ravi, Bias, and Sutlej) were awarded to India. Compensation
to the eastern rivers was managed with a number of link canals.
5.3. Institutional arrangements
Many federal and provincial institutes are involved (directly or
indirectly) in ﬂood management activities. Based on the nature of
services and support provided, these institutes can be grouped un-
der risk-managing and crisis-managing institutes. Risk-managing
institutes deal with structural and non-structural measures,
whereas crisis-managing institutes are concerned with rescue, re-
lief, and rehabilitation operations.
5.3.1. Hazard managing institutes
The Federal Flood Commission was established in 1977 and as-
signed the task of preparing the NFPPs on a countrywide basis.
Their speciﬁc jobs are to construct ﬂood protection and river train-
ing works, improve the weather radar data collection system, and
create awareness and adaptability among the local population. The
FFC has played the main role in the country’s ﬂood management
since 1977. Normally, ﬂood protection schemes are prepared by
provincial governments (Provincial Irrigation and Drainage
Authorities) or concerned federal agencies. These schemes are then
reviewed and approved by the FFC, either on an emergency basis or
in the context of a group of projects. Flood protection plans in Paki-
stan are prepared on a countrywide basis by consultants under the
supervision of the FFC. Funding is provided by the FFC and execu-
tion of these projects is carried out by provincial agencies. The FFC
monitor and evaluate these works. These projects can be executed
as an individual independent project or as a subproject of the NFPP.
The approach followed by the FFC encompasses both structural
and non-structural measures. Non-structural measures mainly
pertain to the establishment of modern ﬂood forecasting and
warning systems to provide timely and reliable ﬂood information
to the ﬂood mitigation agencies and to the public.
The Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authorities (1997) are
an upgraded form of the Provincial Irrigation Departments with the
extended scope of irrigation and drainage management. The
Provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authorities play an important
M.A.U.R. Tariq, N. van de Giesen / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 47–48 (2012) 11–20
role in ﬂood mitigation by performing design, construction, and
complete maintenance of river training and ﬂood protection works.
These also provide the ﬂow measurement of rivers, canals, and
drains for ﬂood forecasting. In addition, their role in crisis manage-
ment is to prepare ﬂood emergency plans before, during, and after
The Water and Power Development Authority is involved in
the ﬂood forecasting process by providing river and rain data from
its telemetric gauge sites within the upper catchments of Indus and
Jhelum rivers. The safety of the Mangla and Tarbela dams are the
top priority for this data collection. It is also involved in providing
inﬂow and outﬂow data from the Mangla and Tarbela dams and
the Chashma barrage.
The Flood Forecasting Division of the Pakistan Meteorological
Department collects hydro-meteorological data from various na-
tional and international sources and then processes data to pro-
duce ﬂood forecasts and warnings. Flood warning dissemination
is solely the responsibility of the chief meteorologist to avoid ru-
mors and misinformation about ﬂoods.
5.3.2. Crisis managing institutes
Crisis management is mainly performed through a set of admin-
istrative entities. Therefore, it will be convenient for international
readers if administrative divisions in Pakistan are described before
discussing the existing institutional setup. The country is divided
into ﬁve provinces each having their own political government.
These Provinces are further divided into ‘Divisions’ that, in turn,
consist of ‘Districts’. Both divisions and districts are only adminis-
trative levels headed by ‘Commissioners’ and ‘Deputy Coordination
Ofﬁcers’ without political representation. Each district is further
divided into ‘Tehsils’ and Tehsils into ‘Unions’ that are represented
by elected Councilors.
The Provincial Relief Departments are responsible for ﬂood
preparedness, rescue and relief plans. The department arranges
surveys to ensure that all ﬂood protection bunds are satisfactorily
maintained before the ﬂood season. It sets up ﬂood warning
centers and ﬂood centers at district and union levels. In fact, the
Relief Department functions through control and coordination of
the personnel and resources of other government departments
generally organized in form of committees.
The Emergency Relief Cell works at the federal level and mainly
deals with the planning and assessment of relief requirements for
major disasters. The scope of their activities covers stock piling of
basic necessities needed during an emergency, establishing emer-
gency funds, and assisting international donors in their relief ef-
forts. The provincial governments and local administrations
provide relief for disasters. The National Disaster Plan from 1974
covers procedures, organizational set-up, and standard procedures
for the monitoring of disaster operations.
The Army provides necessary help to civil authorities to carry
out rescue and relief operations during and after ﬂoods. The Army
also takes part in pre-ﬂood season surveys and inspections of the
ﬂood protection works. It is the responsibility of the provincial
government to provide all support equipment (boats, life jackets,
vehicles, tents, etc.) to the Army for these operations. During the
ﬂood season, the Army sets up ﬂood emergency cells at each corps
headquarters. In the case of major ﬂoods, the Army is responsible
for actuating controlled breaching of pre- deﬁned ﬂood bunds to
divert the peak away from the cities. Although, there exists no
standard procedure, the breaching is decided on the basis of exist-
ing and forecasted ﬂood stages with the mutual consultation of lo-
cal ofﬁcials of civil administration, irrigation department, and
army. The Army has been playing a vital role in ﬂood relief activi-
ties in 2010 ﬂood since the start of this disaster. Their relief activ-
ities demands intense cooperation with organizations that provide
ﬂooding information. There are also a number of departments
which are assigned special tasks during ﬂoods.
6. Analyses and discussions
The overall data of lives lost and villages ﬂooded (Fig. 4) shows a
decreasing trend from 1950 to 2009, which may be due to
Fig. 4. Flood losses details at national level against severe ﬂooding years.
18 M.A.U.R. Tariq, N. van de Giesen / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 47–48 (2012) 11–20
improvements in ﬂood management. According to the Centre for
Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters – International Disaster
Database EM-DAT (1980–2000), the ratio between the number of
deaths and population exposed to ﬂoods in Pakistan is lower than
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and China (Pelling et al., 2004).
Whereas ﬂood losses at the worldwide level demonstrate an
increasing trend (Pielke, 2006), ﬂood losses in Pakistan showed a
decreasing trend until the recent ﬂood. The sense of safety induced
by the decrease in ﬂoods resulted in increased vulnerability of soci-
ety. As a result, life losses and ﬁnancial losses were exceptional
during the 2010 ﬂood, given the ﬂood levels, which were not
exceptionally high (Figs. 2 and 4).
Flood loss data at district level show that historic ﬂuvial ﬂoods
of the major rivers seldom claim lives, whereas regular annual
losses are mainly agricultural. Total areas ﬂooded and ﬂooded
cropped areas can be used as good indictors to assess the impacts
of ﬂood management at district level. Therefore, ﬂooded areas and
crop areas ﬂooded at district level have been charted for major riv-
ers upstream from the river conﬂuence (Fig. 5) to evaluate trends
in ﬂood losses. Some reductions in the ﬂooded areas have been no-
ticed, overall. Historical trends show that the country observes
alternate ﬂood rich and ﬂood poor periods. It is also worth noting
that there has been no major ﬂood since 1995 and that the ﬂood in
2010 occurred after a prolonged dry spell.
Though both structural and non-structural measures have been
implemented to reduce ﬂood losses, available statistics show that
ﬂood management in Pakistan basically revolves around structural
measures with a primary focus on ﬂood prevention (MoWP,
2002c). Crisis management strategies are mainly comprised of res-
cue and relief actions. However, no solid strategy has been devel-
oped to enhance the ﬂood ﬁghting abilities of individual
communities. Flood mapping has been initiated but still no ﬁnal
and authentic product has been produced to integrate ﬂood map-
ping into existing ﬂood management. New initiatives for structural
and non-structural measures are taken continuously but lack of
continuity and maintenance mostly results in failure. Poor mainte-
nance of telemetric system, dikes, and FEWS are among the exam-
ples. Dike failures and malfunctioning of FEWS for ﬂood warning
due to poor maintenance and negligence have been observed dur-
ing 2010 ﬂooding (Tariq and van de Giesen, 2010).
Funds are controlled and provided by the federal government
through FFC and there is no consideration in terms of ‘who pays
and who beneﬁts’. On the other hand, the project approval guide-
lines set by FFC (FFC, 2009) carry strategic biases that are aimed
at protecting locations and infrastructure of greater economic,
political, and strategic signiﬁcance, at the cost of areas and com-
munities with lesser inﬂuence and importance. For a project to
qualify the acceptance criteria, it must have an EIRR above a
threshold, usually set by donor agencies. Self-reliance and risk-
based approaches are not yet part of project acceptance criteria.
The social and economic infrastructure of Pakistan depends on
the waters of Indus Basin. Alarming records of historical ﬂood
losses (Fig. 4) show the seriousness of the ﬂood problem. Measures
have been taken for ﬂood management, but there is no serious ef-
fort to increase the system’s ability to cope with the ﬂuctuations in
annual and seasonal ﬂows in the Indus River System. Pakistan’s
current water storage capacity is around 12% of annual availability.
No major dam has been constructed since the completion of Tarbe-
la Dam in 1974. Construction of new dams and reservoirs has been
hindered by inter-provincial disputes. The country was suffering
severe draught and water shortage shortly before it was hit by
the devastating ﬂood in 2010.
7. Conclusions and recommendations
Flood management in Pakistan is a task that requires both vast
resources and comprehensive understanding of the ﬂood problem.
The nature of ﬂoods varies drastically throughout the country due
to contrasting physiographic, climatic, hydrologic, demographic,
and socio-economic factors. The present approach for ﬂood man-
agement incorporates both structural and non-structural mea-
sures, yet their inter-linkage and combined efﬁciency still need
to be optimized. The efﬁciency of any proposed measure should
be evaluated for its integration into existing measures to achieve
efﬁcient and economically viable solutions.
Change in ﬂow regime due to low ﬂows in eastern rivers after
the Indus Water Treaty and enhanced ﬂood protection measures
have attracted economic activities and settlements in ﬂoodplains.
Flood management arrangements are concentrated around the
Chenab and Jhelum rivers because of the frequent and devastating
nature of ﬂooding. Those ﬂoodplains that have not faced ﬂooding
over a considerable time are under extremely high risk. Vulnerabil-
ity on such locations has increased due to a false sense of safety.
Fig. 5. Details of area ﬂooded and crop area ﬂooded at district level for major rivers.
M.A.U.R. Tariq, N. van de Giesen / Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 47–48 (2012) 11–20
The 2010 ﬂood in the upper Indus was due to exceptional intensive
rainfall in the catchments of the Kabul and Swat rivers which was
not covered by Doppler Weather Surveillance Radar units. The
Doppler Weather Surveillance Radar network should be extended
to cover north western areas of the Indus Basin to enhance the
capability and reliability of FEWS and the same system should be
established for the hill torrent areas of the Kharan Basin after car-
rying out feasibility analyses.
Currently, there exists no well deﬁned criterion to initiate new
measures. Political processes and inﬂuence shape ﬂood manage-
ment planning. The situation worsens as funding is not a responsi-
bility of ﬂoodplain inhabitants. A race to secure more measures is
unavoidable. In addition, the protection of high value areas at the
cost of low priority areas promotes unlawful breechings of dikes,
which was also observed during the ﬂood in 2010. To overcome
the problem, the risk-based approach must be incorporated to han-
dle ﬂood problems within available resources. Resources required
for ﬂood management must be generated from water users and
ﬂoodplain inhabitants and dependency on donors must be avoided.
Comprehensive standard operating procedures must be formu-
lated based on risk and self reliance.
Expansion of structural and non-structural measures is extre-
mely important to enhance the efﬁciency of the ﬂood management
system. Flood zoning and ﬂood mapping projects must be com-
pleted on priority basis. Necessary legal and institutional support
must be provided to ﬂood mapping and ﬂood zoning. New dams
are necessary for improvement in water management in general
and for effective ﬂood management in particular.
Unfortunately, maintenance and functioning of ﬂood measures
have been neglected. High priorities must be assigned for the prop-
er functioning of measures. FEWS is a state of the art model. Its
proper functioning and full utilization must be assured. Compre-
hensive ﬂood management plans must be prepared and executed
without waiting for another devastating ﬂood.
Concluding, a risk-based pro-active approach is required to
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