Floods, Pakistan and August

Flooded streets of Lahore-3 July 2018. Photo courtesy: GEO

No. Flooded streets are not the real issue. Nor is the erupted sinkhole in front of GPO on Mall Road, Lahore. Water had to infiltrate. What’s wrong if it found a spot on Mall Road out of all the roads when the built drainage capacity overshoots? (How quick and effectively is the sink now reconstructed should be asked though). The flooding, by definition, remains worse in urban areas because of the built environment that does not allow proper infiltration. What we are seeing is the result of a phenomenon that is not under the control of the local administration directly; rain. Although it has its role to play on the grander scale of climate change to which I will return. Yes, preparedness is the responsibility of the municipality. Though when it comes to preparedness, even the developed economies are not prepared enough, what to expect of preparations in Pakistan. Just for a comparison only last month, June 2018, parts of Germany (and of other countries in Europe) were flooded which then looked not much different than what we got to see for Lahore in the early week of July. 100mm of rain in 24 hours flooded parts of Germany which looked as submerged as Lahore’s low-lying areas. Bear in mind that Lahore received 250mm of rain in 24 hours. So we need to see things in perspective.

the local DE
A part of Dresden Germany flooded in June 2018. Photo Courtesy: The Local DE

Firstly we need to understand that the floods are a direct effect of climate change, whether we acknowledge it yet or not. The whole precipitation cycle is being disrupted which will only bring more floods, worse droughts, deadlier heat-waves and longer summers, just to name a few. So one thing is clear that it does not directly result from the mismanagement, at the level of rain allocation, by the local government. We do also need to consider that those cities and towns flooded in Germany, France, and England and elsewhere were almost doubly above sea level than Lahore that is only 217m. Landshut (Germany) whose parts were flooded received 74.8 mm in 24 hours on June 12 to June 13, 2018. It is 445m above sea level. Not only properly but many lives were, sadly, lost in the recent flood in these European countries.

Photo- DPA
Photo Courtesy: DPA

Sea levels are rising at alarming rates. Once we have understood that it is a global trend, we can move on to see where does the difference lie. All those affected in the West will be compensated for their material losses. The government takes care of the damages (private insurers too of course). For the next time, they will be better prepared with even quicker response times, investing more resources into projects and research in mitigating natural catastrophes on the local scale and taking part in global climate fight.

In Pakistan, your best compensation is that you did not die in it. As long as I can remember, the low-lying areas of Lahore are always inundated every Monsoon season. Where the local government has failed is that despite being ruling the province for decades, no such measures are ever taken. No resources allocated for protection against natural catastrophes, no schemes of social welfare introduced. Plantations have only decreased, forests have only disappeared, no new dams being built, no flood defences ever talked about, no water storage facilities ever considered knowing for years now that Pakistan is severely water strained which has now reached critical levels already, no attention what so ever? Some flyovers do get built for they have the added advantage of clear visibility in the public eye. At best, a flood warning is issued every year or some minister coming out in long rain boots accompanied by wide camera crews. But what about any real, meaningful sustainable actions?

Image Courtesy: Rustica FR

We must understand that unless we all collectively and individually intervene, floods, heat waves, rising temperatures, forest fires, droughts etc. are only going to get worse. I would like to finish with a suggestion that instead of buying cotton flags for your rooftops and paper flags for your alleyways next month (for 14 August), each buy a plant instead to show your national spirit. They are both green but one surely has long-lasting national contribution than the other.

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