Ruthless rains

Published July 21, 2023

DISASTERS are natural; the ensuing havoc is manmade. Once again, familiar monsoon misery returns with intense downpour and another round of despair: submerged roads, clogged drainage, power cuts, deadened daily life and a mounting human toll. On Wednesday, 11 workers were killed when a portion of an outer military compound wall collapsed in Islamabad’s suburbs, five people were electrocuted in various areas of Lahore and at least 54 died in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, adding to the scores of fatalities across the country. Meanwhile, a lashing night-long spell in Rawalpindi triggered an emergency as the water level in Leh Nullah swelled to more than 5m in Kattarian. The threat of the torrent breaking its bank still looms. Clearly, the new climate system of violent soakers and frenzied losses is set to shatter lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and records.

Varied reasons — climate change, unusually heavy rainfall, incompetence, poor planning, illegal construction, encroachments — are the new norm. Perhaps an explanation does lie for this deadly cocktail. But the question is, why do weather alerts fail to quicken unmindful authorities? For now, PMD has cautioned against urban flooding from July 20 to 22 in Punjab and KP. Decades of federal, provincial and local apathy have thrust systemic infrastructural collapse upon hapless citizens, now caught in the annual ritual of death and devastation. Several solutions are floating out there: consultations with urban planners to curb flooding risks, installing early warning mechanisms in rural and low-lying areas to prevent flash floods and hill torrent tragedies, with storm-water drains, rainwater storage and restoration of choked rainwater channels in urban centres. However, more than funds and rhetoric, these need political will and official commitment for visible implementation. Pakistan will see heavy precipitation annually. Stakeholders cannot work with incongruent development patterns. They must draw lessons from international preparedness to protect villages and cities. The human cost has robbed us of the joy that was the monsoon.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2023

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