It took the monsoon rains and apocalyptic images of floods in Pakistan, for the people and government to finally realize what the impacts of climate change mean and how devastating they can be.
Climate Change is, in fact, an existential crisis for planet Earth.
For decades researchers, scientists and climate activists have been crying hoarse that climate change is for real. It would impact countries, river basins, mountains and marine life. It would also destroy ecosystems and bring about huge socio-economic disasters.
Experts have been warning that there is a need for urgent measures to increase the resilience of communities, reduce their vulnerabilities and be better prepared — because disasters strike without any warnings.
Regrettably, the governments in Pakistan did not show any urgency for being prepared for a climate crisis. Reducing poverty and improving the condition of population living below poverty line has not been a priority of governments for decades in the country.
People often refer to floods as ‘natural disasters’. That is actually incorrect. The fact is that there are no natural disasters. There are only natural hazards. Unprecedented rainfalls, floods, earthquakes and storms have been a part of the life cycle on Earth for millions of years. But such natural occurences turn into disasters when the vulnerable local communities, weak infrastructure and ineffective governance cannot sustain the onslaught on natural calamities.
The recent floods in Punjab’s District Rajanpur is a classic case of disaster caused by inadequate and ineffective infrastructure and extremely vulnerable population that had no means of coping with hazards. The affected people could have shown more resilience to such a calamity, if they had safer houses, alternate places to shift to, better awareness, alternate means of income and social security nets.
“No infrastructure of canals and bunds could have been prepared for that ferocious onslaught. The flood damaged the main Kachi canal and railway tracks. It moved further towards Rajanpur. Cumulatively the flood torrents carried a record 250,000 cusecs of water,” says Rauf.
By mid-June, most of the districts in Balochistan started receiving unprecedented rainfall. These spells caused flash floods that swept away villages falling in its path. The raging floodwaters gushed down to districts Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur situated in foothills of the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountains in south Punjab. Both these districts received heavy rainfall between early-July and late-August, 2022.
According to Additional Deputy Commissioner Rajanpur, Abdur Rauf, most of the devastation was caused by the rain spell that started on August 14 and continued till August 27. By August 13, people of the area were warned and asked to shift to elevated plains. A few boats available were also readied for emergency.
On August 15, rainwater raging down from Balochistan started to flood hill torrents of Chachar, Kaha, Pitokh, and sped onwards to Districts Rajanpur. “No infrastructure of canals and bunds could have been prepared for that ferocious onslaught. The flood damaged the main Kachi canal and railway tracks. It moved further towards Rajanpur. Cumulatively the flood torrents carried a record 250,000 cusecs of water,” says Rauf.
The Qutab drain, a major storm drain that has carried floodwater to the Indus for decades along with two minor drains, Bukhari and Tayyab, could not take the volume of floodwaters this year. It was breached at many places and flooded several villages.
The Rajanpur district administration however decided to make further breaches in the canal to save the Rajanpur city from getting inundated and divert the waters to villages. Resultantly, Bukhari drain and other canals and drains got damaged and large swaths of land as well as villages got submerged in floodwater. Meanwhile, rains continued unabated and hill torrents continued to overflow.
By August 16, according to the district official record, some 1,118,898 were evacuated and transported to safer plains in 16 boats by 96 civil and army rescuers. In the first assessment, 7,11,142 acres of land got inundated, 33,645 katcha/mud or brick houses damaged, 223,415 people affected and crops spread over an area of 310,888 acres as well as 70km of road infrastructure got washed away. Nine people got killed.
Although the rains have stopped, the hill torrents have dried up and the sun is shining, yet this disaster is far from over. The relief and restoration is but a temporary solution to a long-term predicament… The only way forward is to accept that rivers have the right of way and people must not obstruct the flow.
After the rescue phase, there are thousands of scared, grief-stricken people, deprived of their meager household items. The district government has set up around 27 relief camps where 10,000 people have found shelter. They have also provided 21 mobile health units and treated more than 81,000 affectees and 58 mobile and fixed units for veterinary care where 200,000 animals have been vaccinated against diseases.
But the people’s woes are far from over. Their needs are overwhelming — from food and shelter to clean drinking water and clothes, medical care, mosquito nets and sanitation. The relief efforts seem utterly insignificant. The present is dismal and the future looks uncertain.
Although the rains have stopped, the hill torrents have dried up and the sun is shining, yet this disaster is far from over. The relief and restoration is but a temporary solution to a long-term predicament.
To counter the impact of climate change in the long term, roads, dams, bridges and dykes must be reinforced to sustain storms and floods; ensure river and storm drainage systems work efficiently, set in place an effective emergency plan and improve the resilience of communities living in disaster prone areas.
The only way forward is to accept that rivers have the right of way and people must not obstruct the flow.