Preparing for urban flooding

The decision makers can benefit from global experiences to minimise the losses due to persistent natural calamities

Preparing for urban flooding

Listening to the Sindh chief minister during a press conference on July 14 was amazing. He said: “We were all on the streets, including me, the ministers, the administrator and other officials. We were trying to resolve the situation. The day before yesterday when there was a little break in the rain, I was out on the streets risking my car... However, by yesterday the entire four to five feet of water had been drained. Every part of the city, except some areas in the old city area, was clean.”

It is this assurance – “I was there on the ground”—that exposes us to such disastrous situations every year. It is good that the government leaders are at the forefront at the time of disaster and rescue but once a disaster has unfolded there is little left to prevent the consequences.

It was interesting to notice a thirty-eight-year-old story (on Monday August 13, 1984) in an English daily stating, “Well-to-do families had to go without meals in the posh Defence Society. The whole area resembled an island, with six to eighteen inches of standing water around each house as well as on the approach roads. Children have not gone to school since Tuesday last.”

With such a predictable pattern of urban flooding in Karachi, it is unacceptable that every year government officials should appear on the media with lame excuses. At the same press conference, the chief minister mentioned heavy rains of 2020 that had exceeded 400 millimetres. In 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2011, too, Karachi had witnessed almost 300 millimetres of monsoon rains. In 2007 and 2010, it was around 400 millimetres.

Rain-induced flooding killed at least 135 people in Balochistan this year; hundreds were rendered homeless. 21 people had died last year. There is also a consistent pattern of flooding in the Punjab and the KP. Pakistan has witnessed 20 major floods: in 1950, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1995, 2010, 2011, and 2012. One can also include 2016 in the list and 2020 with historic urban flooding in Karachi.

If a nation is subject to a disaster with such consistency, it is indeed the responsibility of its government officials to ensure concrete disaster prevention and mitigation mechanism which remains in place to meet any situation.

I remember that in 1992, I was in Karachi to attend a training programme when one day almost everyone in the office was worried after lunch and wanted to leave the office to reach home safely. We also left office but the driver couldn’t arrive to pick us due to the water on the streets. We decided to walk to the hotel but it proved a bad decision. In the end we made it to the hotel after facing a lot of difficulties.

In case of floods, there are always warnings. We notice those prior to any incident. I was in Almaty, Kazakhstan when the 2005 earthquake hit Pakistan. Almaty had witnessed a major earthquake in the 1970s. After the earthquake, our defence attaché, in a meeting of the community, informed the Pakistani diaspora about Kazakhstan’s preparedness to accommodate the needs of the entire city. He appreciated the government of Kazakhstan for donating to Pakistan a state-of-the-art mobile hospital and tents with complete facilities, including transportable toilets, which were transported by a special flight of Pakistan International Airline (PIA).

With a predictable pattern of urban flooding in Karachi, it is unacceptable that every year government officials should appear on the media with lame excuses.

Disaster prevention and mitigation have emerged as a science. It includes the preparedness and capacity building for both a prompt response and recovery. Projections about the scale of the disaster, keeping in view the historic trends and analysing exposure to the calamity is the key.

In the case of flooding, vulnerable residential areas, underpasses, roads, health facilities, poorly maintained infrastructure (maintenance of more than 50 storm water drains of Karachi and Leh in Rawalpindi, etc, require the relevant departments to ensure effective and efficient disaster prevention and mitigation mechanisms.

According to a report published by the Tulane University Louisiana, New Orleans, “Mitigation and prevention efforts aim to reduce the potential damage and suffering that a disaster can cause. Mitigation specifically refers to actions taken that can lessen the severity of a disaster’s impact – investing in measures that limit hazards that can greatly reduce the burden of disasters.”

The report further says, “Strategies to protect vulnerable communities and limit hazards include: raising awareness about potential hazards and how to address them, educating the public about how to properly prepare for different types of disaster, installing and strengthening prediction and warning systems and building partnerships between sectors and agencies at the federal, provincial and local levels to collaborate on mitigation projects.”

We notice the same trends over the years, specifically in the case of monsoon flooding. We can mark the areas; we can ensure appropriate maintenance for the flow of water to the level it has been recorded historically. We should have the budget to purchase the relevant equipment for road drainage.

According to Roadex Network, a collaboration of northern European roads organisations, “The primary purpose of a road drainage system is to remove the water from the road and its surroundings. The road drainage system consists of two parts: dewatering and drainage. Dewatering means the removal of rainwater from the surface of the road. Drainage, on the other hand, covers all the different infrastructural elements to keep the road structure dry.”

The report elaborates, “In Sweden, dewatering is divided into two parts: runoff and dewatering. Runoff covers the water flowing from the surface of the pavement via road shoulders and inner slopes to the ditches. Dewatering covers the collection and transport of water from the surface and structure of the road so that there will be no ponds on the road or in the ditches.”

The Tulane University report suggests, “Disaster readiness calls for contingency planning, advance decisions about managing human and monetary resources, coordinating procedures between different agencies, and organising logistics. Contingency plans answer three basic questions: What will happen? What will the response be? What will be done ahead of time?”

The decision makers can abundantly benefit from global experiences to reduce human suffering and minimise the losses due to persistent natural calamities.

The writer is an associate professor in management sciences and head of the Centre of Islamic Finance at COMSATS University (CUI) Lahore Campus. He can be reached at

Preparing for urban flooding