Water, water everywhere

September 6, 2020

While the government scrambles to provide relief to the citizenry amidst massive urban flooding, meteorology experts say that much more needs to be done

Torrential rains have wreaked havoc across cities in Pakistan flooding many areas in the last couple of weeks. The spells of heavy rains in monsoon season in August this year also caused urban flooding in big cities of the country – Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi – pushing the limits of the already-choked drainage infrastructure of the urban zones. The heavy rainfall and flooding in the country resulted in loss of homes, valuables and lives for many.

While provincial and federal governments scramble to provide relief to the citizenry some meteorology experts say that much more needs to be done in view of the weather projections.

The Sindh government has declared more than 20 districts as “calamity hit”. In interior Sindh in the low-lying areas rains have affected several districts. In Karachi, the economic hub of the country, from poor to posh localities, there appears to be no drainage system for rainwater, now mixed with the sewerage to go.

In the mountain areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, overflowing of rivers and water bodies from hills has adversely impacted cities and villages. Karakoram Highway and many links roads in the Northern Areas of the country are blocked following heavy landslides affecting communication and electricity supply infrastructure.

The monsoon spell, likely to continue this month, was extraordinary and “above normal”, according to Muhammad Riaz, the chief meteorologist.

“We expect heavy rains in every monsoon season; but this year, we can say it was above normal,” he says.

The Meteorology Department issues warnings before heavy rain spells urging the government to direct people to take effective temporary measures to pass through this difficult time. But, some experts believe, a warning before floods is not a solution to this situation faced by Pakistan during monsoon season. They believe that urban flooding is much more serious, and more regular than the river flooding. River floods are seen occasionally now and affect riverine belts and low-lying areas while urban flooding results in infrastructural damage almost every year.

In the recent urban flooding, rainwater affected all of Karachi, exposing poor urban planning and infrastructure. The low-lying areas of Karachi drowned completely, while in the city area water occupied all roads.

“When we disturb natural drainage patterns, start encroaching [upon] such places and choke our sewerage system in the urban areas, we have to face such situations,” says Raza Ali, a Karachi-based urban planner. There are 46 natural nullahs and two river beds in Karachi; similarly, Lahore has a very good natural drainage pattern but interferences in such patterns have led to this situation where water gets no proper channel for flow and causes urban flooding, he says. Moreover, he adds, that the sewers are also choked because of throwing solid waste and plastic bags in them.

“There are layers and layers of polyethene bags in the sewers of big cities,” he bemoans. Drainage lines are built with a limited capacity and when they are choked, they cannot accommodate rainwater. Extra rain-water is beyond the capacity of this ill-designed and badly-managed sewerage system, he says.

However, he says, where we have more parks and deeper grounds this rainwater helps in recharging ground water, and becomes a valuable resource.

“All this can be dealt with but it will pose inconvenience and cost. We can resolve it with better planning and by taking proper measures to run cities on natural and sewerage drainage systems. We need effective service drainage plans with serious thought starting immediately,” Ali says. “Otherwise, we will continue to face such a situation every monsoon,” he warns.

Experts believe that to tackle this problem there is a serious need to develop proper water channels linking them to water-distressed zones where this water can recharge ground water and help reclaim cultivable land.

Several proposals for revamping Karachi’s choked water drainage infrastructure have been made by the governments with the help of international organisations in the past. PM Imran Khan claims the government will start a mega plan for a permanent solution to the problems caused by floods by cleaning drainage channels, fixing the sewage system and resolving the huge challenge of water supply to the people of Karachi. He also announced the allocation of a huge chunk of money to efforts aimed at making the drainage system of Karachi better.

The writer is a staff member and can be reached at [email protected]

Water, water everywhere