Cold, hungry, stranded — and dead

Atrocious weather across the north of the country has produced a number of difficulties and some tragedy

Editorial April 06, 2016
Flood waters rush through a market area as vendors and resident scramble to save their possessions on the outskirts of Peshawar on April 3, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Atrocious weather across the north of the country has produced a number of difficulties and some tragedy. A landslide at Othar Nala in Kohistan is thought to have buried 25 people, and none have been rescued alive in the last 36 hours. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, at least 61 people had died in rain-related incidents up until April 5 and, with more rain forecast on April 8, the toll can only increase. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is reportedly blocked in 17 places and passengers both ways are making perilous crossings of slide areas. There are reports from Gilgit-Baltistan of villagers having run out of food both for themselves and for people stranded in their communities. Civil authorities are being widely blamed for a lack of preparedness, which may be true in some instances but not in others.

No government anywhere in the world can control the weather, and Pakistan is undergoing — and suffering from — changes in global weather patterns that touch the lives of all of us. Some of our infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events, and the Karakoram Highway has always lived on the edge of the possible. Communities along its entire length have always been vulnerable to rainwater-induced landslides and seismic activity adds to the potential for catastrophe. The Frontier Works Organisation has for decades done unsung wonders to keep the KKH open; and local authorities are often acutely aware of the difficulties caused by slides and ‘quakes and prepare accordingly — but they can easily be overtaken, indeed overwhelmed, by the scale of some events.

Bad news travels a lot faster than do excavators and relief supplies, and deliveries to isolated communities by helicopter are a drop in the ocean compared to their actual and immediate needs. The media at times is wont to make uninformed comments about the paucity of response by communities often hampered by the death of their first-responders anyway. This ongoing calamity is likely to get worse before it gets better, and a modicum of first-hand reporting would assist a wider and deeper public understanding of a complex problem.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th,  2016.

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