According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), since the start of the monsoon season, 196 people died, most of them in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, and in Sindh Province. Moreover, 283 stood injured, with thousands of houses damaged across the country, particularly in Balochistan where 838 houses faced damage.
When streets turn to rivers, years of disregard for the environment and civic mismanagement become evident when extreme climate events occur.
Pakistan lay submerged under the highest-ever rainfall. The heavy rainfall made an already bad situation for Pakistanis much, much worse severely damaging major roads and highways and isolating several areas from the rest of the country.
Hundreds of families were unable to access basic needs like drinking water, food, and power for days following the rainfall. Farmers faced the loss of crores of rupees with crops submerged in countless acres. Though the extent of rainfall was exceptional, the question that arises is how well the country is prepared to face such extreme climate events.
Town flooding happens due to the incapacity of the cities to handle rainwater during extreme rainfall events. Multiple issues contribute to flooding. The existing drainage system is inadequate to handle even a moderate increase in rainfall, let alone a downpour like the current one.
Land use planning and permissions have not been in tune with the drainage required. Rapid urbanization has increased surface runoff, by creating more impervious surfaces such as concrete pavements, which do not allow percolation of rainwater through the soil.
In addition, unscrupulous construction over lakebeds and encroachment of drainage channels has added to the woes. Sewage overflowing through manholes has also been a serious cause of concern in recent monsoons.
The present stormwater drain (SWD) system is not capable of handling heavy rainfall. When the cities areas expand no new SWDs and no redesigning of SWDs takes place. In addition, due to the absence of a sewerage network, the SWDs constructed become sewerage channels.
Pakistan has lost hectares of wetlands. Urban water bodies have been a victim of unplanned urbanization. As noted multiple times, construction over lakebeds and encroachments and the blocking of stormwater drains have aggravated flooding in the country.
Seemingly, not much has changed in the last two decades in terms of the country’s preparedness to handle such climate events. The land mafia grabs every bit of land, including roads, drains, and parks. In many cities, there are constructions over nullahs. There are a number of such examples in the country.
There is an absence of precautionary measures on the part of authorities. If there is rain for just 15 minutes, several roads will have four feet of water, and the areas stand blocked for days. This has been the state in many cities of the country over the last few decades.
The municipal flood management system needs a lot of work. Many cities have long road networks but fewer SWDs. This means many cities have no organized channel for rainwater to drain off.
In addition to lakes and canals, wetlands and watersheds play a vital role in absorbing excess rainfall, but regrettably, rapid urbanization has resulted in the loss of a large portion of the wetlands. Modern drainage system remains on paper only. Although the rains were extraordinary, no future planning for the country is evident.
Refurbishment of the flood retention capacity of all existing water bodies through desilting, raising bunds, and formulating an action plan for implementation is necessary.
Only with integrated hydro-geological urban planning, we can mitigate the effects of flooding. Stronger laws and stricter monitoring and implementation of urban infrastructure development are required to ensure that construction, development, and land occupation do not reduce or block water bodies.