Rain tragedy

Published April 5, 2016

IT has been less than three weeks since torrential rains — the onset of which had been predicted by the Met department — triggered flash floods, mudslides and landslides that resulted in the deaths of several people in Azad Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

As usual, the government rushed into panic mode after the tragedy; clearly, it had done nothing to study the ways and means in which the disaster could have been mitigated. Now, here we are again with headline news discussing the 60 or so lives that were lost within the course of a single Sunday in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan, again as a result of heavy rains, flash floods and landslides.

In addition, the weekend downpour — 24mm of rain within 24 hours were recorded in Peshawar — wreaked havoc on the infrastructure in the area, washing away roads and bridges, leaving key arteries choked, and causing massive power failure in significant swathes of Malakand.

This scenario and various similar iterations play themselves out year after year with distressing regularity; and yet, Pakistan seems simply unable to learn, despite the presence of a complex and often overlapping network of disaster management authorities.

True, many of the mountainous areas where heavy rain can trigger landslides and flash floods are hard to access. But for the same reason, it is precisely in such areas where there is a need to invest in long-term damage control and mitigation measures. Were Pakistan to find in itself the will to do this, it would in fact be doing itself a double favour.

On the one hand, there is a need to protect vulnerable communities from climate-related disaster; on the other, there is the reality of climate change. It is estimated that this country is amongst those that stand to be most adversely affected by global warming. Besides, it faces looming water shortages in the future. That could sound the death knell for a largely agriculture-based economy.

A solution that has been mooted often but not taken up in any seriousness is the creation of small reservoirs in all areas, from the north to the south, where excess levels of rain are regularly experienced. But for this to happen, the country’s administration should be willing to learn. Can it? Another predicted climate event is coming up: a heatwave in the south.

Thousands of people died in the one that occurred last year. Here is the state’s opportunity to prove its mettle.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2016

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