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The annual surprise

Updated Aug 05, 2013 04:22pm

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.

Author Image

Shyema Sajjad is a former Dawn staffer.

She tweets @ShyemaSajjad

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (38) Closed

Aug 05, 2013 04:42pm

Things look terrible from the pictures - hope things gets better soon!

It's unbelievable how similar Pakistan is to India - we've faced similar problems in Bombay - and yet nothing gets done to prevent it from happening again.

Aug 05, 2013 05:56pm

Excellent blog. I have to point out that the media does not help when is harps on the torrential rains blah, blah being the problem, instead of the fact that its years and years of corrupt, inept governance that is the problem.

Ali Abbas
Aug 05, 2013 05:59pm

Do you just like to complaint Shayama or do you have a practical suuggestion also ? Do you think that govt has a magic wand that they can waive to solve all the problems? Years of illegally built houses, mosques warehouses can't be fixed now. Major flood are happening in west also and even with great infrastructure cause billion of dollars worth of damage. Please state one practical solution that appears feasible, govt can't tear down the whole city and built it all over again.

Aug 05, 2013 06:44pm

The incompetence of the government in the Indian sub continent is immeasurable.

Aug 05, 2013 07:34pm

We, as citizens, need to move beyond meaningless slogans void of actions and do our part. What about creating citizen public safety committees in each neighborhood and pressing authorities ahead of time through letters and visits to "make" them prepare better for this kind of disasters. Get your local, provincial and federal representative on board and don't let them point fingers to each other to avoid responsibility and be very clear that it maps into them getting votes next time or not. This is how a democracy is supposed to work. A common citizen is not helpless if he/she exercises the power a voter inherently has.

Mohammad Abdul Halim Bukhari
Aug 05, 2013 07:42pm

Well written. But the apathy is no body takes care. I think Waqar Zaka is correct in saying to masses that don't care for party ticket just offer your self to people of your place to vote you if you want to do something good to people and your beloved country. Don't depend on any party ticket and party name just move yourself in and take initiative to correct the situation with spirit and God will help you.

Aug 05, 2013 08:26pm

Both the Pakistani Public and their leaders lack the foresight and money to plan and resolve such environmental problems. It's amazing that the public keeps electing visionless and careless leaders time an time again. So how can it expect them to perform when it has no zeal for public service due to both lack of skills and funds?

Aug 05, 2013 09:21pm

rain is mercy from ALLAH, Our politicians have turned it to a nightmare, people r not more then just party tags n so r divided according to areas, leaders, casts. very rightly said by writer almost every party own karachi, but nobody cares about karachi. why do we dont learn lesson from past experiences this scenario exists every year, in pak ppl demostrate for ppp muslim league etc etc....... but u won't find a single soul coming out in support of humanity this is real cause of our disablement

Aug 05, 2013 09:25pm

I head someone on a Pakistani TV channel saying, I guess trying to justify why the arrangements to deal with the rain were so bad, "for the last 5 years it has been the same". These people have no shame using such lame excuses. They don't seem to be educated (just an educated guess.....this is what fake degrees do to you) and not even smart enough to answer the questions raised by journalists. I really don't understand this. The dates for the monsoon season are known to the whole world, except for the people who are effected by it most. The rainly season comes every year and the lack of preparedness is just unbelievable. I really hope that the rulers of the largest city in Pakistan will get someone who knows what to do in these situations. I don't really care who does it but it is a shameful situation that after 60 years, we still don't have any idea how to deal with the monsoon rains. Someone is responsible for the deaths of people because of rain. Are we not going to hold them responsible. Is the Chief Justice not going to take a notice of this?. Or he is too busy trying to please PML-N?.

Imtiaz Faruqui
Aug 05, 2013 11:20pm

Let the PPP do some work instead of taking up office jobs where they can make some money, let them go into the field and help people, after all its people's party , MQM has already proved itself for many years.

Aug 06, 2013 12:25am

@Sonal: You are right Sonal, we are ever ready to fight each other even on petty issues, but have no vigor and desire to help our own people, specially the deprived ones. This is the ugly face of politics in developing countries, including India and Pakistan.

yussouf m mir
Aug 06, 2013 02:02am


Aug 06, 2013 04:06am

I think it is a very nice blog, giving an insight on our current situation while keeping in mind our history in tackling with these rains.

As Sheyma said, we knew it would come, we knew we don't have the infrastructure to handle this issue, we knew we don't have the dams to store all this water but the worst thing we know is that we have not learnt from history and we have not done anything since last year to tackle this situation.

As some people were asking, what is the remedy ? It is fairly simple, do what is missing. Every body knows, we have to improve our drainage infrastructure, built new dams, WAPDA needs to be coordinated so that people do not lost lives with open cables and people needs to educated on how to tackle if such situation happen (at the least).

It is a long journey but If we just start moving in the right direction, we would see things improving every year, Insha Allah.

Aug 06, 2013 07:13am

Clearly, it must be the will of Allah.

Agha Asad Raza
Aug 06, 2013 07:53am

The writer is really talking through her hat on this one!! I agree with Ali Abbas that as far as Karachi is concerned the flooding was caused by illegal contruction in the river beds, seasonal water courses and flood plains of water channels. Corruption and greed was also invovled as the administration turned a blind eye to these buildings. The result was predictable, so the Karachi walas are themselves to blame and they suffered the consequenses.

Shehzad karim
Aug 06, 2013 10:05am

@ ALI ABBAS: what Shyema Sajjad has written was not to criticize one government or every next government term but the thing is, these governments before swearing oaths present a term outline that they will do wonders for Pakistan, all those demands that were not fulfilled before will be honored once the government get elected. However every promise ends in disappointment and the government not even rectify their mistakes by acting passively. Referring to west has a logical fallacy as you mentioned because what west does for their people after havoc will never be possible with cruel leaders ruling Pakistan.

Aug 06, 2013 03:18pm

@Magister: We have security

Balaji Krishnamurthy
Aug 06, 2013 04:16pm

Wow, India and Pakistan have a lot in common. The author could just have substituted Karachi with Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata or any big city in India. No other change is required.

Aug 06, 2013 04:53pm

A well written article, pointing preparedness against natural hazards. Pakistan's understanding with rains and flood control needs rethinking in PLANNING and ENGINEERING. An ordinary engineer knows that surface draining inlet and outlet with disposal are important in the planning stages of the project. It appears that if Pakistan had given no consideration to important factors of drainage and the planning and construction phases of development. This shows a clear indication of corruption in the development of housing colonies around the built up cities.

Aug 06, 2013 05:22pm

@Ali Abbas: things werent this bad when Mustafa Kamal was around. Bring back Local Gvt sytem.

Aug 06, 2013 06:45pm

@Ali Abbas: You are not only rude but sadly, you have missed the point completely.

Khwaja Rizwan
Aug 06, 2013 09:42pm

Why blame the state all the time. What are we doing as citizens. Destroying green belts inside and outside our residences. More and more commercialization with the drains and footpaths occupied by encroachers. The drains and nullahs are choked as we continue to throw garbage. The list goes on...

Aug 06, 2013 10:02pm

@Ali Abbas: She is a reporter and is doing her job. Criticizing her for not providing a solution is not fair. Maybe some one in the government who is in charge of infrastructure should be asked to provide practical solutions.

Aug 07, 2013 12:06am

@concerned: Ok I have been hearing that things were better when Mustafa Kamal was in power so what did he do take all the drainage back with him when he left .Drains and planning stays my friend people come and go. if he was so good the drainage system should have been improved like in rest of the world .Get a life and move beyond Mustafa Kamal .

Aug 07, 2013 12:41am

Good article.

Lack of accountability is the name of the game in Pakistan. What I don't get is how stupid can the people be ? Why do they keep electing the same good for nothing corrupt folks back into power ? MQM has been in power in Karachi for ages, why aren't the people of Karachi holding them responsible ? I voted and campaigned actively for PTI this time around but if they don't do anything in KP or show some progress I will discard them too. At the present what incentive do they have for doing what they were elected to do ? None, zilch, nada ! If you could get away with doing nothing and still draw a salary at your work you would also waste half of your time.

Akil Akhtar
Aug 07, 2013 10:29am

What tax payers...? hardly anyone pays tax in pakistan and tax evasion is worn as a badge of honour. We are worst than our govts. We are good at blaming the govt but never look at ourselves and what little we have contributed to building this nation.

Aug 07, 2013 11:53am

@Ali Abbas: Have you heard of storm water drains? I the 50s and 60s when I grew up in Karachi, I saw large 60 inches & 72 inches under ground pipes being laid. After 1980, no such infrastructure in last 30 years except the period of Mustafa kamal & Musharaaf. All over the world, developed non developed counties all of the metropolis grow and expand geographically. The present leaders, authorities, Judges, etc. etc. move around in bullet proof Mercedes with conveys so where all money goes. Who cares for civil amenities like storm water drains, culverts, reinforced banks on nallas. Let them die and let us enjoy our lives- motto of the leaders and the officials.

Aug 07, 2013 02:53pm

Unfortunately it is very true. We have no wisdom, no faith, no light at the end of the tunnel, the only true wisdom left is in knowing that we know nothing.... wonder if we are ever going to wise up.

Aug 07, 2013 03:11pm

One can easily blame the politicians but the continuous thread running is the civil service and buearocracy. They should have learned the lessons, devised plans and prepared themselves for these calamities. But applying the civil service=corruption rule, do not expect anything from the Governments. The government servants are occupying a post for which they are paid a stipend, whether they know any thing about the job is debateable. National swimming coach has all the certificates and qualifications required to be head coach but he/she has not seen a swimming pool or for that matter any pool of water worth swimming in. Car driver appointed in one hospital has never been in a car.

Aug 07, 2013 03:13pm

Rain is a predictable event, storm water system failure shows successive local an provincial government including MQM and their famous major failed to build infrastructure over last 20 years of being in the govt. writer failed to point out the obvious

Aug 07, 2013 06:51pm

@Javeri and Hiba, The drainage are not black hole, they need to be kept after regularly, the main problem this time was that even though heavy rains were predicted a month ago, the drains were not cleaned as they should have been. Had the drains been cleaned up, the damage to the city would have been at-least 2-3 times less, as the breaking of the dam was not easily predictable as it lies outside Karachi region. The local govt since last approximately 3-4 years had been under PPP so I hold them responsible not MQM.

Aug 07, 2013 10:17pm

Are the institutes of government 1, Incompetent 2, Negligent 3, lack vision 4, Unwilling 5, Corrupt 6, All of above.

Aug 07, 2013 11:41pm

Important point raised by Ms. Shyema Sajjad is the mindset of rulers ; their interest to collect votes from the public and taxes after being voted in power , not the public service or utilization of funds properly. And unless this mindset changes , people will continue to suffer as was evident from failure to face up before the monsoon rains.

But more importantly it is the lethargy, inaction and indifference of the people themselves. They must stand up and demand accountability and only then those responsible will pay heed. Long over due is the Local Govt election.

Aug 08, 2013 05:30am

People get what they are looking for

Aug 08, 2013 12:20pm

@Javeri: No infrastructure or drainage system can continue functioning without MAINTENANCE. Administrators appointed by Sindh govt have left the city under piles of trash everywhere. As much as you hate it, people of Karachi will continue to remember Mustafa Kamal's time. People are not blind.

Aug 08, 2013 12:25pm

@Akil Akhtar: Karachi pays most tax than any city in the country. And it is absolutely justified to blame the Sindh government because it is not allowing Karachi to have government by its elected representatives. Instead the Sindh government is trying its utmost to delay local bodies elections, and continue to rely on appointed administrators and commissioners to run th city. The results of this apathy are obvious to everyone.

Aug 08, 2013 12:29pm

@Agha Asad Raza: Before blaming Karachiites, let me ask, who was running the administration? Elected representatives or some viceroy from Larkana's Sindh government? If it was not elected representatives then you can't blame Karachiites.

Aug 08, 2013 02:16pm

What is the role of media for such events? Blame after it happens, or to prepare and warn institutions before it happens?

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