Deadly monsoon

At least 21 people have died over the past 48 hours in the first spell of Monsoon rains to hit the country this year. The Pakistan Meteorological Department has predicted that more rain accompanied by thundershowers and gusty winds is expected in various areas in coming days. Torrential rain for last few days have wrought havoc on the creaky civic infrastructure of Karachi, causing massive urban flooding and widespread power outages. There were no rain-related deaths reported in Punjab, however, according to a report from the Rescue and Safety department suggests that 54 large and small buildings were affected in weather related incidents, while several people retained injuries. It has also cautioned that due to erratic behavior of summer monsoon, extreme precipitation events may occur at isolated places in the country, which can result into floods. Sadly, this was merely a continuation of pattern being repeated each year. Federal and provincial governments despite being made aware in advance of coming weather events do not take any steps required to mitigate their impact and as a result, loss of life and property occurs.

Irrespective of normal or above normal rains, poor planning and haphazard growth of urban centers have made them vulnerable to damage. A range of hydro-meteorological hazards including riverine and flash floods, cloud burst, glacial lake outburst triggered by heat and or precipitation, cyclonic activity, onset of drought and heat waves tend to occur during monsoon. These events are accompanied by health epidemics like the dengue virus and affect the most marginalized and poor segments of society. A high-intensity, late monsoon such as this is becoming a pattern now but according to experts the country is yet to learn from recent disasters. Earlier we would have well distributed rains during the monsoon season. Now thanks to climate change, the monsoon is becoming more erratic. The NCCP was not being implemented simply because climate issues ranked very low on the country’s priority list. The pattern of recent extreme weather in Pakistan (such as the super floods of 2010 and the more localised floods of 2011 and 2012) clearly indicate the increased frequency and intensity of such events, which is in line with international climate change projections

Instead of spending billions of rupees on relief and rehabilitation work, the authorities should better invest in flood prevention and mitigation programmes. Human interventions, wrong disposal of solid waste and settlements in and around rivers and nullah courses are some of the main reasons for increase in devastation caused by floods and proper enforcements could avert such losses. There is also need to modernise Pakistan Meteorological Department, which is facing difficulties in arranging funds for procurement of latest weather radars and other equipment and capacity building of NDMA and PDMAs. While rising population, weather aberrations due to climate change and degradation of ecosystem, especially deforestation, can squarely be blamed for the floods, the risks have been exacerbated by the management mess that prevails. It is high time Pakistan looked at weather events through the prism of “management” rather than something that could be “controlled”.