Monsoon prep

As per usual, the Karachi administration is scrambling to clear the drains before the rains arrive

By Editorial Board
June 10, 2024
Vehicles crossing road flooded with rainwater after heavy rain in Lahore on July 22, 2023. —APP

It is that time of the year again. The late July-early August period is about six weeks away and the country has begun to brace itself for what has historically been our annual spell of rain and floods. As per usual, the Karachi administration is scrambling to clear the drains before the rains arrive – these are about 586 drains and 310 choking points in total. Meanwhile, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is conducting hazard simulation exercises to enhance the preparedness and emergency response capabilities of the provincial disaster management authorities. A nationwide and coordinated approach to prepare for potential disasters is an encouraging sign and something that has arguably been lacking from Pakistan’s responses to rains, floods and other disasters in years gone by. However, other changing trends are not so comforting. The monsoons appear to be getting increasingly severe and the NDMA predicts that the country is likely to see 40 to 60 per cent more rainfall than usual, with southern Sindh and northern Punjab seemingly most at risk of flooding. Even more worryingly, the monsoon season is now often accompanied with glacial lake outburst flows (GLOFs) or floods due to glacial melt, a consequence of accelerating global warming. This time, the disaster management authorities believe that out of 36 vulnerable four GLOFs are expected and may result in urban flooding in Ghizer and Chitral areas of Gilgit-Baltistan.

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Heavy rains and GLOFs were among the key ingredients that led to the 2022 floods that inundated a third of the country, affecting over 33 million people and leaving over an estimated 1700 dead. The coming floods are only expected to be 20 per cent as intense. Which means they could affect over six million people and claim hundreds of lives, assuming that these metrics are proportional to flood intensity. It is hoped that this will not end up being the case and the preparation being conducted by the disaster management authorities right now will pay off upon the onset of the monsoon. That being said, disasters are still disasters and even preparation, while crucial, can only limit the damage and displacement up to a point. This brings relief and rehabilitation in to focus. Last Thursday (June 6), the Sindh chief minister claimed that his government had initiated reconstruction of 2.1 million new houses to rehabilitate more than 12.6 million flood-affected persons residing in the province. While this is indeed welcome news, it highlights how the pace of rehabilitation has been far less than ideal with millions apparently still waiting for new homes almost a year-and-a-half after the 2022 floods.

With only 525,000 of the 2.1 million homes currently under construction, reportedly in line with this year’s target, and over 100,000 homes already built, it might take another few years for all those who need a home to get one. There is also still a shortfall of Rs110 billion in terms of funding, which is expected to be met with the support of the federal government and foreign funding. It is clear that rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts need to be better coordinated and funded and to deliver at a faster pace. Plans for rehabilitating victims of natural disasters need to be ready on stand-by in the same way that the responses to the disasters themselves are pre-planned. Beyond this, the increasing urgency of the country’s struggle with rains and floods highlights just how urgent the climate crisis has truly become. The heatwave the country is experiencing right now appears to come back in the form of GLOFs and unexpected rains a month or so later. In fact, there has been little relief from flooding since the year began with unseasonal rains leading to dozens of deaths in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in April. Disaster response may well become the default mode of many countries across the Global South should the world continue to put the climate crisis on the backburner.

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