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Urban sprawl driving away rain

July 15, 2013

ISLAMABAD, July 14: Time is not far off when rain would become a prayer if the urban sprawl and greed in the western confluence of the twin cities continue, warn climate experts.

Unabated stone crushing and urban sprawl towards the Grand Trunk Road have not just destroyed the beautiful Margalla Hills but also impacted the rain pattern in the area, said experts at the Meteorological Department. The east of Islamabad, starting from Chattar down to Bari Imam, always received more rainfall compared to the city’s western end.

“But in the last 15 years, this difference in the amounts of rainfalls in the eastern and western edges of the federal capital has increased significantly,” Chief Meteorologist Dr Ghulam Rasul told Dawn, substantiating his statement with data recorded from last week’s late night heavy showers.

While rain gauges installed in the Saidpur Village recorded 126 millimetres downpour that night, the gauges set up in sector G-13 recorded only 15 to 20 millimetres rainfall. This was an unprecedented turn of events in the last 10 years, especially between city locations just five or six kilometres apart.

“Rain in the western end of the city has decreased by more than 27 per cent in the last 10 years,” he said.

Dr Rasul attributed the less rainfall beyond sectors F-10 and F-11 to excessive stone crushing at the western end of the Margalla hills, uncontrolled encroachments and the development of sectors and housing schemes. In conjunction, these activities have altered the ecology of the western end of Islamabad completely.

“Natural environments are fragile settings,” he said, stressing that the slightest alteration can trigger a disaster.

“The stone crushers have destroyed thousands of acres of vegetation. Less green cover means less moisture that will result in less cooling of the atmosphere, and less moisture means there is not enough water vapour to form clouds,” he added, explaining how the western end of the capital city was gradually becoming more arid, with the air becoming warmer and the climate drier. Islamabad and Rawalpindi get rains from the clouds pulled in from Kashmir, reaching over Murree hills and then travelling towards the twin cities picking up moisture in the air.

“The rain showers are more than adequate as far as Bari Imam and a little farther on to the west. However, raindrops get smaller in size by the time clouds reach the western end. They start evaporating midway because of the increasing atmospheric heat. The raindrops sometimes disappear before hitting the ground, hence less rain,” the expert explained.

Islamabad has seen “severe deterioration of its natural environments” over the last 10 years, confirms Asif Shuja, the director general, Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-Epa).

The environmentalist reiterated his old stance that it was about time that the city planners stopped expanding the city.

“Islamabad is already a concrete jungle which absorbs heat all day making the surroundings warmer,” said Shuja.

Dr Ghulam Rasul said he would not be exaggerating when residents in sectors beyond F-11 and G-13 and G-14 and across the G.T. Road would be “longing for rains”.

He added: “If the pattern of development continues and the menace of stone crushing is not stopped immediately, there will be adverse effects on the climate of the regional areas and also on the locations surrounding the new Islamabad airport,” Dr Rasul said.