THE deaths of four people, among them three children, and the usual post-rain chaos in Karachi on Wednesday, yet again highlight how little prepared Pakistani cities are for what is expected to be a stormy monsoon. Before Karachi, a similar story of loss of life and property, prolonged loadshedding, inundated roads and suspension of services unfolded in KP, Balochistan and Punjab. Since last week, above-average pre-monsoon rains have caused flooding in large swathes of Balochistan, resulting in the loss of at least five lives in Sibi district and considerable damage to the road network elsewhere. Meanwhile, heavy rains triggered landslides at several locations on a major road between Gilgit and Skardu over the weekend, while a glacial lake outburst flood in upper Chitral damaged a power station. People in many cities have had to brave prolonged power outages, traffic bottlenecks and wade through flooded roads to reach their destinations.
But this is perhaps a mere harbinger of the greater danger and damage expected during the upcoming monsoons. The federal climate change ministry issued a warning on Tuesday saying that Pakistan was set to receive “above average” rainfall that posed a “clear threat” of flooding in large parts of the country, especially bigger cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad and Multan. In fact, citing some forecasts, climate change officials also said that torrential rains could cause widespread destruction and displacement similar to the levels witnessed in 2010 when raging floods in the country affected one-fifth of the land and around 20m people. The NDMA issued an alert a few days ago, warning of floods and landslides in the upper parts of the country on account of the expected rain spell. Pakistan has just been in the throes of a killer heatwave that broke all previous records, drying up riverbeds, destroying crops and killing cattle. And now, the rain forecasts make it seem that the country is headed towards another climate catastrophe in the shape of floods. There is no denying that such extreme weather events are a manifestation of climate change, but this truth does not absolve the authorities of their responsibility to help the population deal with what has become the new normal. The government should take steps on a war footing to not just avert disaster but also prepare the ground for future adaptation measures if it hopes to cope with the impact of global warming.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2022