Preventing disaster

Published November 20, 2022

SOMETIMES inattention to commonsense precautions is often all that stands between us and disaster. To prevent that, the National Disaster Management Authority has issued guidelines for visitors to tourist sites in the country’s north during the current winter season. For one, people planning to travel to mountain retreats like Murree, Gilgit-Baltistan, Kaghan, etc should keep an eye on the weather forecast for their destinations and act accordingly. They should also check for updates on the National Highways and Motorway Police website pertaining to the status of their intended route, and carry basic travel necessities, including dry food, to sustain them and their travel companions for at least a period of 24 hours. Prescription medicines, emergency medical supplies must be taken along, as should warm clothes. Vehicles should be checked so they are not liable to break down en route; fresh air must be kept circulating through the air conditioning system and the exhaust pipe cleared of snow.

These lessons have been learnt after bitter experience. It is nearly one year since the ghastly Murree tragedy in January, which left at least 22 people dead after thousands of vehicles were stranded in a heavy snowstorm on the road leading to the hill station. Several of the victims reportedly froze to death in their cars, while others may have died from asphyxiation after inhaling exhaust fumes in snow-bound vehicles. However, the authorities rightly bore much of the blame for not preventing the disaster as well as not launching the rescue operations in time to save lives. Despite there being a limited amount of parking in the unplanned concrete jungle that sadly Murree is today, vehicles were allowed to continue heading towards it. That culminated in a situation where the hill station could accommodate no more, leaving the vehicles stranded far from their destination. The local administration did not have adequate heavy machinery to clear the snow, nor did it mobilise whatever means it had at its disposal in order for people to be rescued. There have been other occasions, especially over Eid holidays in recent years, when local tourists have been caught in massive traffic jams on the approach to popular destinations. But because those incidents transpired in summer, the outcome was nowhere near as horrifying. One hopes that proper SOPs have been drawn up so that the authorities, even while asking people to behave sensibly, cannot shirk their responsibility towards keeping the populace safe.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2022

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