To describe the irreversibility of events and the determination of socio-historic forces, Waris Shah’s favorite expression was “Vagan paiy dariya na kadi murrde” (The rivers bent on flowing cannot be stopped).
For the last few years Pakistan’s rivers are honouring Waris Shah’s depiction when, in monsoon season, they reclaim the paths that have been usurped by human intruders by way of a quickly multiplying population, anarchy, and lack of governance. The rivers are giving an early warning to every Pakistani that if you mutilate nature, then it will take a very cruel revenge one day. And nature’s revenge is so tough that if the earthquake in the Washington DC area last month had lasted 20 more seconds, very few people would have been left to tell the story.
It cannot be determined if Pakistan and many other such countries have ever been more brutal to nature or with their fellow human beings. In both cases the end result is widespread destruction: probably more people perish and suffer because of floods and their intervention in nature than by jihadi terrorists and sectarian/mafia gangs. It seems like there is a correlation between these both types of brutalities: both are product of irrational approach to earth and the beings that occupy it.
Unlike scientific debates about human- induced global warming, Pakistan’s case is very simple and self evident. An unplanned population has encroached every inch of space that has become the cause of incessant devastations. Since the hapless crowds encroached on reserved lands, drainage and river beds, the monsoon water has no other way but to destroy what comes in its way. Untill the 70s every village, town, city or desert area had natural passages in case of heavy rain and floods. Now, there is hardly any village or town that has not blocked the flow of rain water: raised paved roads everywhere has created a situation in which heavy rains turn the whole village or town into a dirty water pond that can only breed diseases.
People have encroached river beds, and not only cultivate there, but have made brick houses as well. Given the Indus Water Basin Treaty in Pakistan’s rivers like Ravi and Sutlej, there is hardly any water during the winter but that does not mean that they will be dry in monsoons as well. If India does not utilise most of monsoon water to fill its dams built on Ravi and Sutlej, most of central and western Punjab will be drowned by floods. India has no choice but to release water after its dams are filled. And, taking the worst scenario of evil Indian intentions that Pakistanis assume anyway, if instead of filling its dams it lets the excessive water flow, areas around Ravi and Sutlej will see a great human tragedy because of hurdles created in the river beds.
Of course the monsoon and floods are seasonal hazards, but during the rest of the year the situation is very grave though not dramatic to capture the attention of media or the governments. How can the localities handle heavy rains and floods when they cannot handle the sewerage water? Sewerage disposal is handled so badly that it keeps on spreading diseases and killing hundreds of thousands of people every year, specifically in the rural areas. Either it creates ponds of dirty water in the streets or it is disposed off in the irrigation channels. For example, the Lower Bari Doab canal water that reaches the fields in Sahiwal or beyond is heavily polluted with sewerage water: right from its beginning (or even before from Ravi river) every city, town and village drops sewerage in the irrigation distributaries and watercourses. By the time it reaches the crops it has more than half of filth resulting in disease enhancing crops consumed by humans. In addition, such polluted water seeps down to underground water making it extremely harmful for human consumption. No wonder, water borne diseases are so common in Pakistan.
Somehow poor Pakistanis will get through this devastating period of heavy rains and floods, but a lesson has to be learnt: every locality should have a permanent arrangement of drainage of sewerage and excessive water. There are many countries where it rains all year long but they have made befitting arrangements and months of rain do not disrupt normal life.
In Pakistan, instead of making better arrangements for excessive water discharge, human encroachments have blocked the old drainage systems. Pakistan's government, at all levels, should take sewerage disposal and water drainage its top development priority. Every locality, small villages or big cities, should be mandated to have drainage systems ready before next monsoon. The developers and constructors, whether building residential dwellings or making metal roads should have a legal binding and liability to first make safe drainage system before they do anything else. Communities should be made liable through legislation, if there is none already, to take collective responsibility for making arrangements of disposing of sewerage and rain water. A compulsory drainage disposal fee should be charged as part of land revenue or property taxes.
One does not have to be a lawyer or a judge to figure out that harming others, as individuals or communities, is violation of human rights and safety. Polluting streets and waterways with sewerage does just that: harm others. Therefore, if the government(s) does not take necessary action then the highest courts should take a suo-moto action to protect the whole Pakistani society. Furthermore, if suicide is a liable act then proliferating sewerage fits this category of crime too. If no one does anything then nature will punish in a way it is doing at the present time.Dr. Manzur Ejaz is a poet, author, a political commentator and a cultural activist. He is a Doctor of Economics and currently lives in Washington DC.
Dr Manzur Ejaz on how Pakistan’s rivers are honouring Waris Shah’s depiction, reclaiming the paths that have been usurped by human intruders.