Tuesday, September 9, 2014

NOTHING CHANGED WITH THE RAINS

Looking at the pictures of inundated streets, flooded roads and overflowing drains, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is the first time monsoon rains have unleashed themselves on the province of Punjab. But that would be fooling no one but ourselves. The whole country deals with monsoon rains every year, sometimes in buckets and sometimes in spades. This year, the rainy season has arrived late, but now it has come with a vengeance.

The fact that the provincial government and our disaster management agencies have been caught with their pants down once again is not just embarrassing, it is costing lives. So far, the death toll has reached more than 80. The causes of death include roof collapses, landslides and electrocution. All of these fatalities can be attributed to negligence and an extreme lack of preparedness to tackle a problem that afflicts us each year. Lahore is hardly recognisable: knee high water, homes flooded with rain and gutter filth and vehicles stranded in deep pools. Work, commute, daily activities have all come to a halt because the administration and the disaster management authorities have been lazing about all year refusing to prepare for what we all knew was likely to come. Weather reports state that the downpour will continue for the next few days, perhaps even intensifying in nature. This spells catastrophe for a majority of the people living in shanty homes and the presence of poor quality infrastructure will ensure that more tragic deaths follow.
 
In low-lying areas such as our main cities in Punjab, the monsoon rains are particularly harsh. The poor, ancient drainage system cannot handle the deluge and overflows within minutes, resulting in filthy standing water. No one has bothered to fix or replace this faulty system over the years and, to add insult to injury, no one has even tried to extend any measures to limit the damage by improving the quality of construction in poorer areas of the cities. Every year people with limited resources suffer the rains while those more fortunate celebrate the onset of the monsoon.

However, not many are celebrating this year as even Azad Kashmir is registering record highs in rainfall and is facing landslides. Some 80 villages near Sialkot have been evacuated due to flash flood warnings. Reports suggest that as much as 0.9 million cusecs of water have entered Pakistan through the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has issued flood warnings and that is all. The Water and Sanitation Authority (WASA) stands helpless in oceans of deluge, not knowing where to even begin any relief efforts. It is of little surprise then that the army has been called in to help relocate evacuated families (once again).
 
The flash floods of 2010 submerged one fifth of the country in water and displaced millions of people. We still have internally displaced persons (IDPs) from that catastrophe languishing without shelter and rehabilitation. Subsequent floods and monsoon rains have added to the IDP count and infrastructure damage with nothing done to lessen the hardships of the masses. This is the pathetic state of a country that should be well equipped by now to deal with the calamity of expected rainfall but our only form of management seems to be to mutely move from one disaster to the next, praying that the worst will soon be over. Concrete steps need to be taken to improve construction, the state of how people live, the drainage and sanitation and an early warning system designed to alert the public to impending disasters. We may not be able to entirely alleviate the impact of Mother Nature, but we can at least try to lessen the tragedy and destruction as much as humanly possible.


Courtesy: Daily Times

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