NU-Q panel discusses recent floods in Pakistan and Sudan

October 05, 2020

Panelists from Northwestern University in Qatar discussed the role government policies and poor planning have had on intensifying the impact of natural disasters, why marginal communities have been the most affected, and how international aid for disasters has not been delivered evenly.

The webinar – The Floods in Pakistan and Sudan: Natural or Manmade Disasters? –  featured Anto Mohsin, assistant professor of science and technology studies, student Zeest Marrium, and alum Abdullah Gamil.

Mohsin pointed out that the impact of natural disasters like the recent flooding in Pakistan and Sudan often depends on the country’s preparedness and planning. “Human decisions, such as building towns in disaster-prone areas, or constructing a building that cannot withstand earthquakes, or not having an effective early-warning system and evacuation routes can worsen these disasters,” he said.

Mohsin also noted that because of the role governments can play in creating policies that exacerbate disasters, many disaster studies researchers claim that there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ disaster – rather, he said, they are “natural hazards that can affect communities that are vulnerable to their impact.” For example, he explained, when a disaster occurs in cities built near volcanoes, or countries without drainage facilities where heavy rainfall is common, it should not be classified as natural because policies and systems could have been implemented to avoid the disaster.

Marrium pointed to the floods in Pakistan to illustrate Mohsin’s point, explaining that despite Karachi being the business hub of Pakistan and “generating more than 65 percent of the country’s revenue,” the city’s urban planning and sustainable development is overlooked, and Pakistani authorities have not taken any steps to implement emergency response strategies or systems that could use the excessive rainfall for irrigation or energy.


“ Human decisions, such as building towns in disaster-prone areas, or constructing a building that cannot withstand earthquakes, or not having an effective early-warning system and evacuation routes can worsen these disasters.”
- Anto Mohsin, professor of science and technology studies at Northwestern Qatar

“The neglect of Karachi’s development is the main reason behind the recent crisis,” she said, “even without the floods, roads collapse, sewages overflow, and there are power-shortages,” which is a shame because a “this influx of rain could have been a game-changer” for a city that has long suffered from droughts.

Echoing the same argument, Gamil explained that Sudan was not prepared for its heavy rainfall either, despite experiencing similar situations in the past. “A mismanagement of the resources and infrastructure, like dams and drainage, needed to deal with such floods” contributed to the deaths and devastation around the country, he said.  

Panelists also discussed reasons why marginalized and underprivileged communities are hit the hardest by natural disasters. “Disaster recovery efforts favor the wealthy, more politically connected, and those with a capitalist agenda,” said Mohsin. To prevent and minimize the impact of future disasters and to build more resilient communities, efforts should have a more ethical and even-handed approach to responding to disasters that is inclusive and fair, he added.

Although large sums of independent donations and government-backed funding was provided to support the rebuilding and recovery efforts of both countries, the panelists pointed to a flaw in how finances are allocated, leaving those in need without support.

Gamil, who has seen first-hand that communities in rural Sudan were not receiving the aid they need, said that international donations and government funds have not been evenly distributed because politicians and international media coverage focuses on the cities instead of villages and remote areas where the conditions are worse. “Social media campaigns and viral hashtags were focused on Khartoum, whereas there were 16 other states that were severely affected by the floods,” he said.   

The discussion was sponsored by Northwestern Qatar’s Liberal Arts Program, Student Affairs, the South Asian Student Association, and the African Student Association.