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January 15, 2020

Extreme weather


January 15, 2020

With heavy rains and snowfall in various parts of Pakistan, the situation appears to be grim. In AJK over 50 people have died, in Balochistan around 30 people have been killed; in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa too, the death toll is nearly a dozen. In the Neelum Valley in Kashmir, an ice avalanche has buried dozens of people. The government has declared emergency in several districts, especially in Balochistan which has been more severely affected. Over 130 houses have been destroyed. The deaths occurred in separate incidents mostly by roof collapses after heavy rains and snowfall. Though unexpected weather conditions can wreak havoc in any part of the world, the way human lives are lost in Pakistan is mostly preventable. Wherever there is an earthquake, floods, or storms, the primary protection of people is their home, and a solid structure protects its inmates from unexpected deaths in freak weather.

In Pakistan, from rural to urban areas, there is hardly any implementation of building laws. Most structures are constructed without any government permission, and poverty forces people to spend as little as they can to have a shelter over their heads. This results in substandard constructions across the country. Though the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) in Balochistan has declared emergency in some districts, the extent of damage and the rescue effort needed are still not fully known. The department of Communication and Works (C&W) and security forces including Levies, police and Frontier Corps have been deployed for rescue efforts. That Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan visited the PDMA in Quetta to get a briefing and issued a high alert to commissioners and deputy commissioners, is commendable and timely, but there is much more to be done. In the affected districts, most highways and connecting roads are closed due to heavy snowfall and there are forecasts for more rains and snow. There are reports that in northern Balochistan hundreds of vehicles have been stranded and families are enduring extreme cold. Over 300 people have been rescued but there are many more stuck in various parts of Balochistan.

This situation may result in more causalities if immediate steps are not taken. More areas where rains or snowfall are forecast include Kalat, Quetta, Khuzdar, Qilla Saifullah, Sibbi, Loralai, Chaghi, Nokkundi, Makran, Kharan, Panjgur and Gwadar. That is pretty much most of Balochistan. Some districts such as Turbat and Awaran are more prone to flash flooding. And incidentally most of the districts mentioned are among the most backward and undeveloped districts in the country, with a high prevalence of poverty and unemployment. The infrastructure in most of Balochistan is still primitive; there is hardly any dual carriageway in the entirety of the province. With this level of development, or rather lack of it, the province deserves immediate response from both federal and provincial governments – failing which the already deprived province will feel even more neglected and forsaken.

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