The floods have wreaked havoc in the country. The estimation of the losses is ongoing for rescue and later for the purpose of rehabilitation. One area that has remained neglected in the debate is the connectivity, and through it, the possibility of lessening the quantum of damages. Certainly, the need of connectivity as an essential during the emergency response is important, but it needs to be realized that connectivity is even more important for pre-emergency responses.
One reason for better response in certain areas during these floods as compared to the previous one in 2010 is the warnings coming from social media. In parts of KP, a viral message of a government official on social media resulted in timely evacuation. The losses to crops, livestock and especially human misery can be lowered by timely warning and actions for which digital connectivity is imperative. Lessons from this experience can improve connectivity and its application as a pre-emergency response. The telecom and its connectivity should be a priority sector.
Nonetheless, the effort from the mobile operators is commendable in some cases. This is being appreciated by the Secretary General United Nations Antonio Guterres, during his trip where he recognized Jazz's efforts in response to national floods crisis. But more is required.
The recent floods didn’t come out of thin air. There were warnings about abnormal rainfall in Sindh and Baluchistan. But these were not taken seriously till the water reached nose level. The presentations from the Met department were not easy enough for people to realize the catastrophe in the offing. The coordination between the Met department and disaster management authorities wasn’t swift. With these shortcomings, some mechanism of swift communication was needed so that affected communities could have saved human lives and would have reduced economic losses.
Then in rescue efforts, connectivity can bring efficiencies.There are genuine problems. The fiber optic penetration is low in Pakistan. Especially in parts of Sindh and Baluchistan which are adversely affected by the floods. Government collects funds (1.5% of gross revenues) from market players under Universal Support Fund (USF) with the objective to have connectivity in far-flung areas. However, back in the days, the USF collection used to get lost in the fiscal blackhole and the deeper countrywide connectivity has still not been achieved.
Now the connectivity is cut-off in some of the floods affected areas. The government and industry are doing patch work, as this is the best that could be done under the circumstances. But this band aid approach cannot work in the long term. Wider policy measures are required to be taken. All the conversations are about physical infrastructure that has been damaged such as roads and bridges. Of course, these are important; but the need is to talk also about fiber connectivity and cell sites that are being damaged too. These are as essential as other physical infrastructure. These should be part of high-level discussions. Physical loss is easer to see and has an immediate impact. Connectivity loss is not as visible with the naked eye and its impact is underimagined.
Ferberization and connectivity are equally important. There are examples in the world where better connectivity has resulted in mitigating losses due to natural calamity such as floods. In Turkey, Turckcell has taken a leadership position in the disaster management. They have played a critical role in SOS massages.Pakistan needs to think on the same lines.