Torrential rains: A recurrent national disaster

"It is very unfortunate that state representatives only pay attention to the annual monsoon floods when the crisis is already at hand and wreaking its worst"

Torrential rains and their aftermath have become a recurrent national disaster while the concerned authorities as usual remain unprepared to deal with the situation every year. This year too, heavy rains have been lashing multiple areas of the country since the start of this week. In the aftermath of these unprecedented rains, 77 people including men, women and children have been killed while the infrastructural loss is unimaginable. The downpour has also caused urban flooding as well as flash floods in rural areas. Several districts in Balochistan and Sindh have been badly hit by torrential rains. Urban flooding has also been reported in Karachi, Quetta and Islamabad.

In fact, it is the same story, which happens every year and those sitting at the helm of affairs are found repeating the same things. As the flood crisis situation in Balochistan escalates and the death toll rises, Karachi is now about to be hit with its own flood – a situation that could easily have been avoided. The stormwater drains of Karachi are now so clogged with silt, trash and human waste that it will be impossible to make them functional immediately. There are illegal settlements in and around those areas that will also have to be removed or relocated to make the stormwater drains functional again.

According to the meteorological department, Karachi is expected to encounter heavy rains this week. The heavy monsoon rains have also exacerbated the energy crisis in Karachi and elsewhere in the country. This inexcusable lack of preparedness is reflective of the inability of the federal and provincial governments, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities to cope with the heavy flow of the rivers and excessive rainfall that accompany every monsoon season.

The susceptibility to inundation of the rural areas, small towns and relatively underdeveloped regions along the rivers aside, even the infrastructure of the major cities is ill-equipped to handle heavy rains. Some streets in Lahore have been submerged in rainwater recently, which shows how ineffective the PML-N government’s focus on infrastructure development has been when it comes to real issues. The government’s emphasis on widening roads and building signal-free corridors to ease the flow of traffic is laughable, when the onslaught of the monsoon rains slows down transport in the cities.
The meteorological department’s predictions of torrential rainfall seem to fall on deaf ears, as even the NDMA has been predicting the heavy rainfall that has devastated communities, particularly in rural areas of Baluchistan, without making any preparations to stave off the resulting devastation. The NDMA and other government authorities that can be utilised for this purpose should coordinate with the meteorological department to receive updates of rainfall patterns, so that they can be prepared for the downpour before it begins. The bulk of the evacuation and relief efforts’ responsibility is shifted to the army.

The floods happen every year and should be anticipated in advance by the state by now. The dykes are not sufficiently maintained or buttressed before the monsoons, causing them to break due to the increased flow in the rivers. Even now that the floods have arrived, the state authorities have been unable to manage crises as they happen. People have been stranded in flood-affected areas, either because of damaged roads and bridges or because of a lack of rescue efforts in those areas. People are neither being evacuated nor provided food and other supplies in a timely fashion, causing unnecessary hardships.

It is very unfortunate that state representatives only pay attention to the annual monsoon floods when the crisis is already at hand and wreaking its worst. This indifferent and careless attitude of the politicians will certainly cause the people who elected them to lose faith in the governments. So far, the floods have resulted in around 77 casualties and affected 250,000 people; these numbers will probably climb even higher as the monsoon season reaches its peak in Pakistan. At some point, the government will no longer be able to escape accountability for this annual egregious loss of human lives and livelihood due to the carelessness and incompetence of the state authorities and the NDMA, the latter’s sole purpose being to manage such crises.

Amid growing evidence that climate change is having wide-ranging global impacts that will worsen in the years ahead, different countries are planning to tackle the challenge. A persistent change in weather patterns has made flash floods a global issue. In Pakistan, the monsoon is already making its presence felt across large parts of the country. The concerned departments must be prepared to minimise the losses of expected high floods in the country. Awareness must be created among families settled near rivers prone to experience floods. For this purpose, every means of communication including radio, TV and even mosques should be utilised to warn people against the possible danger of monsoon rains.