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The annual surprise

Updated August 05, 2013

So much for all the good-willed graffiti on the walls of the city – I own Karachi stamped here and there, perhaps it means something – perhaps it doesn’t. This weekend one thing was clear though, as water swept through homes and cars floated on the streets, nobody owned Karachi.

Or Pakistan for that matter – for if someone did, measures to avoid death and destruction would have been taken. This was no unpredictable surprise terror attack where we can blame the damage on intelligence failures and sophisticated weapons. It was rainfall! The kind of rainfall we get throughout the country every year. Every year we see so many casualties, so much loss but nothing is done to prevent it from happening the next time around.

The past government severely disappointed us in 2010 when millions were left homeless due to the floods and rainstorms. But it learnt no lesson from that for the years to come either. Each year, monsoon and torrential rains cause loss of lives, damage to crops, destruction of property and a complete chaos on the streets. This year was no different. However, this year exposed the inefficiencies of the authorities even further when one day of rainfall in Karachi had the whole city flooded and at least 28 dead. A city of 20 million unprepared for a few hours of non-stop rain. What followed the rainfall was the predictable collapse of the system. Where some areas were left without electricity for hours, some were left without roofs and walls. Cables and electric wires dangled across walls and streets as if some big hurricane or cyclone had just swept past us. What it was, was the most predictable change in weather at this time of the year.

Country-wide, there was even more damage. Thousands were rendered homeless, especially in Balochistan and crops over hundreds of acres were destroyed in Punjab. The National Disaster Management Authority had warned of such rains and floods in different parts of the country and the meteorological department had over a month ago said that rains were likely to be heavy. But alas, the state paid no heed to the warnings and what we see today is yet another failure on the part of the leaders who consider themselves equipped enough to take care of a country.

Other than the predictable weather at this time of the year, the reaction to it by the state was also equally predictable. A frenzied rescue effort was made after the damage was done. A few important people toured certain parts of the country, hiking up their pants and tip-toeing across wet pavements while a pack of cameramen followed them. A few lines starting with “Dekhiyeh hum nay… ” were droned across when asked why nothing was done earlier – apparently each year the amount of rains coming our way are a surprise to the leaders. Thus, the common man is obviously more informed.

A lot has been said and written on prevention and preparation but it falls on deaf ears. The NDMA needs to be heard and collectively measures need to be taken so that the next time we have a rainy weekend or a major storm, roads are not completely washed off, wires are not snapped everywhere you go and safe houses are appointed to immediately rehabilitate the thousands who are left with no homes.

Those citizens privileged enough to remain safe from the damage will immediately start distributing food and utilities to the victims of the floods, as we have seen each time in the wake of calamities. But what will the government do now?

It is about time this state looks at its citizens as more than mere tax payers and vote banks. This is not the time to play politics over local administrations and governments – this is the time to rehabilitate those citizens who could have very easily been spared the nightmare if planning and prevention had been considered in the span of a year. This is the time when the government takes ownership of its failures and pays attention the next time it gets a warning from the Met Department.