Sunday May 29, 2022

After the tragedy

By Editorial Board
January 11, 2022

In the aftermath of the tragedy on the Murree-Nathiagali Road, which is still sending shockwaves across the country as funerals take place of the 23 people who died in the avoidable disaster, there is much discussion on why the catastrophe took place and how it could have been avoided. In the first place, it has been pointed out that the Punjab government failed in stopping traffic from going up to the Galiyat area at Barrian, from where the heavy snowfall was experienced. In addition, it failed to carry out rescue measures until the tragedy had reached its peak.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has visited the area and announced some measures that he thinks will help prevent such tragedies in future. While granting district status to Murree may be a good step, the announcement to build new parking plazas in an already congested area does not appear to be a wise decision. Though a five-member committee has come into existence to investigate the causes and lapses that led to the deaths, such committees do not usually produce independent reports. In most cases such reports remain secret and the public does not get to know the details. Civilian and military agencies are continuing their relief efforts, but the real question is why they were absent on that day and night. Why were warnings not issued about the road conditions in Murree as people left from Islamabad and Rawalpindi and why were cars not stopped before they had choked Murree and put a huge strain on hotels in the city? We are told that local people carried out many of the rescues.

The crux of the matter perhaps lies in ensuring better administrative management that is the only way to prevent something like this from happening in future. For the time being all vehicles have been barred from entering Murree but this is not an ideal solution to the problem. The real issue is to keep at least all main roads – if not all major and minor ones – clear of snow. For hilly areas there should always be an evacuation plan ready to rescue people from the snow-hit areas. Unregulated entry of vehicles is another major cause of congestion in most hilly areas. Keeping in mind the maximum capacity of such areas, a regulation plan should be in place every winter so that there is no excuse available to authorities for their negligence. After all, on holidays, people will always flock to northern areas to catch a glimpse of snow falling or to enjoy themselves on such occasions with their children. They need to be made more aware about the dangers of sitting in cars with the engines turned on for a long time, notably in conditions where the outlet pipe is blocked, and the carbon monoxide poisoning which can silently result from this.

For now, strict action must be taken against those responsible for this oversight of their duties. The inquiry report must identify the responsible officials and no averting of blame should be acceptable. The NHA must also be held responsible for its lack of initiative in building link roads which in a situation of calamity play a significant role in evacuation and provide outlets for stranded travelers. Then there should also be some check on board-and-lodging charges. In short, in the aftermath of the tragedy a thorough reworking of many hilly areas should be initiated so that the nation does not wake up to another such tragic news in the future. There can be no tourism initiative unless these bare basics are taken care of at first.