Waiting for a calamity?
experience, when sudden, heavy rainfall in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2010 and in
Sindh in 2011 wreaked havoc and caused unprecedented devastation, all
national, provincial and civic organisations are preparing for a worst case
scenario during the looming monsoon season when the country receives most of
its rainfall under the influence of monsoon currents.
The Pakistan Meteorological
Department, which has been in the spotlight for the last couple of years for
its timely forecasts regarding abnormal rains and flash floods, is on a high
alert and closely monitoring
weather conditions in the region although it has yet to issue a
preliminary forecast for the monsoon season in 2012. A preliminary forecast
issued by the PMD for the month of June has already predicted ‘above normal
rain in most of Sindh, central and south Punjab (excluding Bahawalpur
division) and the northern regions of Balochistan’ in the month of June
2012 while forecast of rains for rest of the country is either ‘less than
normal or normal’ during the coming monsoon season.
Director General PMD Arif
Mehmood was reluctant to give any specific monsoon outlook for the entire
season for the country, saying a comprehensive yet preliminary monsoon
outlook for the season 2012 would be prepared and issued by June 15 but
adding that all the departments and agencies in the country should be
prepared for the worst as it was the only way to minimize human and property
losses due to extreme weather conditions. “For instance, just 15-20
millimeters of rain is enough for cities like Karachi where roads are
inundated, people get electrocuted and civic life is badly disturbed.
However, even 100 mm of rain in Islamabad does not create major problems for
people,” he added.
The meteorologist was of
the opinion that keeping in view the climate change and erratic weather
conditions in the world, especially in Pakistan, authorities should prepare
themselves for the worst by learning from past mistakes, remove encroachments
from rainwater nullahs, clean all the storm drains and evacuate the natural
course of water so that cities could be kept secure from destruction caused
by heavy rains.
Another well-known weather
expert and former DG PMD Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, who is now the
government’s consultant on climate change, was also reluctant to share any
forecast for the current monsoon season. However, he claimed that recent
studies on the impact of climate change’s on weather indicate that there
will be extreme weather events in the coming days. “If there are rains,
they would be above normal and if there are droughts, they would also be
above normal”. He further said, “It is predicted that weather would show
extreme behaviour in the region in the days to come due to the effects of
Another weather expert
Muhammad Riaz said although a detailed forecast was yet to be issued by the
Met Department, even normal or below normal rains could cause urban floods
keeping in view poor planning and the blocking of rain drains in our cities.
He advised the authorities to be vigilant in the coming monsoon season,
maintain close interaction with the meteorological department and take
precautionary measures to prevent human and property losses.
Meanwhile, the authorities
in Sindh, at least in Karachi, have started preparing for the coming monsoon
season by issuing media statements of declaring ‘emergencies’ in their
respective departments and putting their staff on ‘high alert’ to deal
with any adverse situation during the expected rains. Such directives were
issued by the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) and Karachi
Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), which directed their officers and workers to
start preparing for the rains, complete cleaning of storm and rainwater
drains prior to the onset of the monsoons, keep the sewerage system in
working order and get all their machinery and equipment ready for use in case
of emergencies. The Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) must also take
radical steps. Most of the casualties following heavy downpours are due to
electrocution while vast areas traditionally plunge into darkness as the
transmission system crumbles during even minor rains.
Many citizens are not
satisfied with the performance of civic agencies saying little is being done
on the ground to prevent serious disruption during the rains. Neither have
encroachments from the large and small nullahs and drains been removed nor
any major cleanliness drives launched in the city.
fast growing city, is located in a disaster zone.
Its feeble infrastructure, particularly in the coastal areas, has
further increased its vulnerability towards natural disasters such as
earthquakes, heavy rains, tsunamis, tropical and non-tropical storms.
The grave risks posed to
the city by potential natural disasters are numerous and include the
possibility of significant population segments being marooned. High winds can
cause widespread damage and take a heavy human toll.
The blockage of storm water drains, which if not kept properly
maintained with encroachments removed, can deepen the post-cyclone flood
impact and hamper relief operations due to flooding of
essential communications infrastructure.
Breakdown of essential
services like electricity and water can further aggravate the humanitarian
impact of the disaster. Most
importantly, lack of preparation of the city for cyclone response, for
example the absence of shelters, evacuation plans and the poor state of
emergency response services, makes Karachi increasingly vulnerable.
The city’s existing
infrastructure — including high-rise commercial and residential buildings,
hospitals, schools, water supply and drainage networks— combined with
unsustainable land-use patterns, are very
likely to suffer of enormous proportions should any disaster strike.
Fourteen cyclones, four of
them ferocious, were recorded between 1971 and 2001 in the coastal areas of
Sindh and Balochistan. The cyclone of 1999 in Thatta and Badin districts
eliminated 73 settlements. It killed 168 people and 11,000 cattle. Nearly 0.6
million people were affected. It destroyed 1,800 small and large boats and
partially damaged 642 vessels, causing a loss of Rs380 million. Besides, the
damages to infrastructure were estimated at Rs750 million.
The city’s planners and
managers hardly seem to have learnt any lessons from the narrow escapes the
city has had in the form of passing cyclones and earthquake tremors of
relatively higher magnitude in recent years. Apart from this, the densely
populated coastal communities of the city are often blissfully unaware of the
potential risks and may be caught unawares if any disaster strikes.
The Korangi, DHA, Saddar,
Keamari and Lyari localities, all bordering the coastal belt and comprising a
population of 3.65 million, are the areas most vulnerable
to natural disasters, including cyclones and windstorms. While these
localities are situated in the most disaster-prone area, any single natural
calamity can cause a heavy death toll leaving their infrastructure
The coastline snaking along
the Karachi district is about 135KM long, extending along the Gharo Creek
westward beyond Cape Monze to the estuary of the Hub River.
During a recent visit to
some coastal areas in Karachi, the scribe found most of the infrastructure
including the water supply network, sanitation system, sewerage and
wastewater disposal system to be in a dismal state. The condition of the
existing schools and health facilities are unsatisfactory too.
“The communities residing
along the Karachi coast are inadequately aware of the risks from a tsunami or
any disaster that may hit their areas. Most of them never realise that a
peacefully subsiding wave might turn into a devastating wave that could
uproot every single structure and wipe out communities without giving them
time to flee,” said Sameena Mirbhar, a local schoolteacher in Ibrahim Hydri,
a coastal village on the outskirt of Karachi.
communities, especially those on small islands and creeks, have no elevated
ground. They are more vulnerable to the risk of being buried in a watery
grave should be there any rise in the sea level or if a cyclone strikes.
of an integrated vision for the city has hampered the implementation of
development plans. Unplanned and
unsystematic growth has led to acute civic problems and environmental
degradation has resulted in the deterioration of living conditions. Besides,
grossly deficient infrastructure and utilities, the absence of unified town
planning and building regulations, inadequate disaster and crises management
has exposed the city and its dwellers to a host of potential threats from
possible natural disasters,” said Mahjabeen Khan, head of environment
programmes at the Karachi-based Society for Conservation and Protection of
There are four major faults
around Karachi and along the southern coast of Makran in Balochistan
province. An earthquake of over 8.0 on the Richter scale could generate a
fatal tsunami in the area, resulting in heavy loss of the life and unleashing
massive destruction to property and infrastructure.
Chief Meteorologist at the
Pakistan Meteorological Department in Islamabad, Dr Ghulam Rasul, said with
most current structures erected in breach of building codes, a jolt of such a
magnitude could flatten a city like Karachi.
What adds more to the
worries is that the coastal areas are bereft of gadgets to receive early
warnings that can otherwise help local communities to respond to early
warnings of any disaster in advance. Given the fact, community members will
come to know about potential natural disaster when it is too late to react.
“No investment has been
made ever in preparing these communities or those settled on the high, and
so-called safe, ground in any part of the city to understand the signs of any
impending disaster. Lack of this decipherment on the part of local people can
intensify loss of the life or devastation further,” Mohammad Ali Shah,
chairman of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum told Kolachi.
The government institutions
prepared for disaster response are themselves yet to build up their
capacities to respond to any disaster and hence are not capable enough to
take care of disaster. The recent floods in Sindh exposed the capabilities of
the provincial and district level disaster management bodies, he said.
Environmental experts have
pressed on the need for investment in disaster risk mitigation and adaptation
programmes, particularly those which are community-based. “Creating
awareness among vulnerable communities about how to decode the natural signs
of any impending disaster and responding to it in a timely manner, by
identifying and developing escape routes,
building up elevated ground and producing volunteers trained for
responding to disasters during
evacuation, can be of great help,” said Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, chief executive
of the LEAD – Pakistan, a non-governmental organisation engaged in climate
change mitigation and adaptation activities in different parts of the
He also underlined the need
for building disaster-resilient and earthquake-resistant infrastructures,
which can help lower chances of a heavy death toll and massive damages to the
infrastructure. Sheikh also urged the authorities concerned to ensure that
building codes are strictly followed in the city and that every building and
community has systems that can help in disaster mitigation.