It was beginning to look as if the monsoon had misfired this year, failing to deliver the annual deluge that is essential for the agricultural sector of our economy and the hydro-power that trickles into the national grid. A late surge has gone some way to rectifying and mitigating the water-shortages that inevitably lie ahead, but as ever rainfall comes with a deadly price in Pakistan. By Monday afternoon at least 78 people were dead as a result of rain-related incidents across the country, with over 70 injured. Both figures are expected to rise. Every province has been affected to a greater or lesser degree. All major, and most of the minor, cities experienced flooding, most of which had subsided by Monday afternoon. The railways, never robust, were badly affected with cancellations and even longer delays than usual, and power supplies were lost as transformers blew or were tripped by the rain. Vital reservoirs have been replenished. The level of Hub Dam, which supplies drinking water to Karachi, rose by eight feet. The Pakistan Meteorological Department is predicting further heavy rain in much of the country over the next 24 hours, with Sindh and South Punjab likely to be hardest hit.
Bad as these reports are, this is not a replay of the catastrophes of 2010 and 2011. There is no vast surge of water moving south through the river systems as in 2010, and flooding is likely to be relatively short-lived. This will be small comfort to those still displaced or homeless and landless as a result of past inundations, but this late monsoon burst is going to prove to be more boon than bane. Until the end of August rainfall was 43 percent down over the country as a whole, and drought conditions, almost certain with an increase in food insecurity in parallel, looked likely in much of the country. This latest rainfall may well have averted a much wider disaster that would have affected many millions. Where there were local emergencies in the last three days the local authorities appear to have managed to deal with them reasonably effectively and there appears to have been nothing beyond their capacity to respond – they were not overwhelmed as they were in 2010-11. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reports that there have been no requests from the provinces for support funding (Rs5bn is set aside as contingency) – suggesting the provinces have sufficient funds to meet immediate needs. None of this is reason for complacency or self-satisfaction. The reality is that we are particularly vulnerable to extremes of weather. This time the battered – and not fully repaired defences – held. They need to be ready for whatever the rest of the year or the 2013 monsoon throws at them.