Thank God, a near miss

June 18, 2023

While there is relief that the cyclone averted its course, many Karachiites worry about what might have happened had it hit the city

Thank God, a near miss


yclone Biparjoy was expected to hit the coastal areas of Sindh on June 15. There have been reports that the government lacked an adequate plan for evacuating people and providing emergency services.

The citizens must be thanking their lucky stars that the cyclone spared Karachi.

The authorities were also accused of fighting over who should get the credit for the relief work and making excuses. The prime minister had to direct the provincial government, the NDMA and other organisations to utilise all resources to ensure people’s protection.

The local authorities appeared to have no clue to how to evacuate people and provide emergency services. Some officials were more concerned 9nstead about their own safety.

Had the cyclone hit Karachi, it would have been a disaster of epic proportions. Parts of the city would have been flooded, power lines would have been down and lots of people would have been stranded.

“It seemed that it was about to hit Karachi but then it changed its course and headed away. If it had continued according to early projections and the cyclone had hit populated area it would have resulted in massive destruction,” said Sardar Sarfaraz, the senior meteorologist at Sindh Meteorological Department.

“In 1999, a cyclone did hit the area between Thatta and Badin called Keti Bandar. It caused catastrophic destruction. There were more than 700 deaths and large-scale collateral damage,” said the meteorologist.

The Sindh government had then faced criticism for not establishing mobile hospitals in coastal areas and providing adequate emergency medical assistance.

The government was also accused of having failed to ensure 24-hour power transmission in the coastal areas following disruption by the cyclone. The energy minister warned that the cyclone could affect the power transmission system in other parts of Sindh as well.

Cyclone Biparjoy had winds blowing at an average speed of 140-150 km per hour. It was predicted to cause heavy rainfall and windstorms and bring flooding and damage to life and property. “When a cyclone hits land, it results in extremely high-intensity winds and causes severe damage. The sea water rushes in with great intensity,” remarked Sarfaraz.

Had the storm hit Karachi, where millions of people live in low-lying areas and slums vulnerable to flooding, it would have been a calamitous situation. 

If the cyclone had hit Karachi, it would have been a calamitous situation for the city which already faced challenges such as water scarcity, traffic congestion, pollution and crime. “Extrapolating the data from the 1999 cyclone, we estimated that water would rise up to 3.4 metres. Had it been high tide, the rise in water level would have doubled,” said Sarfaraz.

Karachi is home to millions of people who live in low-lying areas or slums vulnerable to flooding. The government would have been hard pressed to cope with such a large-scale disaster and provide relief and rehabilitation to the affected people.

Fortunately, Biparjoy changed its course and moved away from coastal Sindh. It made landfall between Keti Bandar and Kutch in India.

The Sindh government claimed that it had evacuated around 62,000 people from the coastal areas to safer places. There were reports suggesting that some families in the vulnerable areas were not ready to evacuate and had to be removed forcibly.

Somehow, the mayoral election in Karachi coincided with the expected landfall of cyclone. This too caused some confusion.

Supporters of the PPP and the JI clashed with each other at the Art Council in Karachi. The violence resulted in injuries and damage to property and disrupted the traffic flow in the area. It also led to protests and demonstrations by the losing candidates and their supporters, who blocked roads and burned tyres in various parts of the city. The protests also hampered the movement of emergency vehicles and relief workers.

Journalist Ayoob Rajper told The News on Sunday that he faced difficulty covering the cyclone due to the traffic jam caused by the aftermath of the mayoral election.

Some of the evacuated people complained about the lack of facilities at the camps where they were accommodated.

The government should learn from the near miss and improve its disaster management protocols. It should also work with the federal government, the NDMA and others to develop a comprehensive and coordinated plan for dealing with such emergencies in the future.

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist and a good Samaritan

Thank God, a near miss