Lack of maintenance and encroachment issues are causing drainage failure in Islamabad, leading to submersion in the monsoon
ife in Rawalpindi has become difficult after the rains last Monday. The Met Office has forecast that the rain spell will relent this week.
Downtown areas were submerged and the merchandise of some roadside vendors was washed away or spoiled by the rainwater that entered the shops and warehouses.
The Holy Family Hospital in nearby Satellite Town suffered from leaks throughout the structure. People were mostly left on their own. Pakistan Army was put on alert in case of any eventuality. The city administration was at a loss to understand what needed to be done to prevent such situations.
This is not the city’s first rodeo with the monsoon season. Back in 2001, the entire city from Faizabad to beyond Saddar was submerged when the region received 620mm of rainfall. Up to 35 people lost their lives and it took weeks for the water to drain completely.
The fault lines are clear but no action is taken to secure these. To understand the problem, it needs to be made clear that Islamabad and Rawalpindi serve just as a passage to rainwater.
These cities have over twenty rainwater courses, Nullah Leh is the main course. It crosses from Islamabad to Rawalpindi near Katarian on IJ Principal Road. Its immediate targets in Rawalpindi are Khayaban-i-Sir Syed, Katarian and Pindora. All these localities are busy city centres bordering Satellite Town. In Satellite Town, areas off Sixth Road are the worst affected. Usually these areas are referred to as low-lying areas. They also house the iconic Holy Family Hospital with a chapel mounted with a big clock. When the clock bells ring, tranquillity permeates the air. It is an ideal place to be around in cloudy weather but due to the incompetence of the city administration, this area turns into a mini hell in the monsoon season.
Similarly, the areas around Asghar Mall have a prominent place in the history of the region but these too go under water. After nearly every instance of heavy rain, footage of water submerging the surroundings of Lal Haveli are circulated widely indicating that its inhabitant, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, has been in politics and governments for about 30 years now.
However, Sheikh Rashid is not the only one to look at. Every other MNA and MPA in Rawalpindi district becomes a minister or an advisor in some government or the other.
In the media, they hog space and never tire of making big claims at a national level. At the local level, these claims simply look awkward and soggy whenever it rains.
Why then do the people like them? The answer to this simple question lies in the jungle of plazas the city has turned into. People want commercialisation of their property and are happy to see big plazas replacing their traditional houses.
This is not the city’s first rodeo with the monsoon season. Back in 2001, the entire city from Faizabad to beyond Saddar areas was submerged when the region received 620mm of rainfall. Up to 35 people lost their lives and it took weeks for the water to drain completely
To make this happen, the politicians need officers in the Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) and the district administration. These officers bend rules and regulations to facilitate unplanned urbanisation. Anti-corruption bodies have filed several cases against such officers and lodged many FIRs invoking criminal charges for endangering people’s lives but they are always protected.
The whole city has become a big market with no place to park or move freely. Not only rains, but also small fires continue to burn in the heavily commercialised city because its roads and cities have been encroached upon. The district administration knows well whom they serve and the object of their service is never the residents of this city.
Islamabad performs better than Rawalpindi. Teams of city administration, the Capital Development Authority (CDA), have gone into an overdrive to deal with monsoon rains. Preparation to protect the city started before the monsoon season. Deputy Commissioner Irfan Memon is leading these teams. Memon takes that residents are routinely informed of the water situation in the reservoirs in Islamabad.
The city has Rawal Dam, Shah Allah Ditta water reservoir and Chiniot Dam. These reservoirs badly need to be upgraded to meet present-day needs. Attempts to stop loss of water at Shah Allah Ditta and Chiniot Dam are ongoing.
Sadly and gradually, Islamabad is beginning to look like Rawalpindi when it rains. Sectors I-10, I-11 and I-12 around IJ Principal Road face problems during rainfall as Nullah Leh is not well-maintained.
The PWD Market and the areas around it are the worst affected by rain. It is because this area has been badly commercialised after setting up posh housing societies. Almost all of these societies are illegal and their licences or NOCs have been cancelled by the CDA. The situation at Korang Town and the Police Foundation is getting worse with each passing day.
Soan Garden and River Garden residents face submerged roads and flooding scare whenever it rains. At Naval Anchorage, the administration has altered and encroached upon one of the biggest drains in the area. Villagers remember that the drain was like a small river before the society set up plots and graveyards around it. Since the Pakistan Navy operates this society, an action is taken only in rare cases against it.
The CDA keeps on issuing warnings and letters to sponsors of such projects and courts keep releasing their orders in this regard but little changes on the ground.
The Navy Club at Rawal Lake and the Navy Golf Club in the heart of Margalla Hills remain environmental threats despite Islamabad High Court orders for their removal.
An encouraging step the CDA has taken has been the sinking of wells that lead rainwater underground to raise the water table. But if it does not force housing societies like Naval Anchorage to survey their water courses and not alter or encroach upon them, parts of the city are going to look a lot like Rawalpindi in the years to come.
The writer teaches development support communication at International IslamicUniversity Islamabad.Twitter:HassanShehzadZEmail: