An utter lack of flood zoning and little attention to where settlements sprouted up led to millions of Pakistanis building their homes not only in front of designated government levee breaching areas, but also along riverbanks where major flooding can be expected every few years. Salvano Briceno, head of the United Nations' office for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, put primary blame on these settlement patterns for Pakistan's woes.
"If people had not settled on the riverbanks, definitely the disaster would have been less," Briceno said at the onset of Pakistan's flood crisis. "That is the main cause of the disaster."
The government and many patriotic Pakistanis even blame India for some of the flooding. Floodgates along the Ravi and Sutlej rivers in the East are said to be controlled by India, and some officials in Islamabad accuse Indian officials of allowing too much water to be released downstream into Pakistan to protect their own territory.
Despite various conspiracy theories swirling about, all the major contributing engineering failures occurred in Pakistan, including levee breaks adjacent to populated areas, embankment overflows, and improper storage capacity in reservoirs and riverbeds.
"Negligence and lack proper supervision of the embankments on the part of irrigation officials and district administration is an admitted fact," Parihar added.
Scientists at the Pakistan Meteorological Department predict that another massive rainstorm event in the north can be expected in about a decade or so, giving engineers some time to prepare. Several new dam projects are already in the works.
Construction on the Munda Dam in the Swat Valley is now moving along at a faster clip as a result of the floods, said Bokhary at the Federal Flood Commission. That project should be completed in five to six years.
Farther north, officials have already approved construction of the Bhasha Dam, near the town of Chilas in Kashmir. But it won't be ready until 2020 at the earliest, provided funding is available, since construction requires that a portion of the famous Karakoram Highway be relocated to higher ground.
Political opposition slows crucial dam
Three other projects have passed the feasibility test. The largest of them is the controversial Kalabagh Dam project, a massive system that was proposed for the Indus south of Tarbela. The dam's design and planning is complete, and construction would have been finished well before the 2010 flood disaster, were it not for political opposition from the provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh.
Bokhary says that, ironically, both these provinces would have been spared from much of the worst effects of flooding in the south had Kalabagh Dam existed. Many officials and water infrastructure experts believe that discussions on Kalabagh will reopen soon.
"Any of these dams would have really helped," Bokhary said. "Now we have to prepare plans for future floods because the global warming phenomenon is going to have a lot of effect on us."
Officials expect to release on Friday a final bill of what it will cost to repair the nation's irrigation and hydropower system to pre-flood conditions. Initial estimates put the cost at roughly 14 billion rupees, or just under $200 million. The bulk -- about $130 million -- is probably needed for repairs to existing infrastructure, with the rest to bring ongoing construction projects back online.
But officials at the Ministry of Water and Power say hundreds of millions of dollars more, if not billions, will be needed to complete all major dam projects now planned or proposed. Restoring the system just to pre-2010 levels is unacceptable, they say, pointing to projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that Pakistan will experience more extreme weather events in the years ahead.