Ignoring potentially lethal situations until they become a stark reality is something that successive governments in Pakistan have been very good at (in this case, the population itself is also guilty of just that).
Anyone with even a modicum of common sense should have known that once the deluge hit the Indus at Nowshera, catastrophic flooding all the way downstream to the coast, was a foregone conclusion and that organised evacuation of people liable to be affected should be immediately undertaken. This, however, was not done even though Sindh, for example, had all of three weeks in which to transport people, livestock and movable goods to safer localities. Instead, as one village and town after another fell victim to the rampaging waters, everyone was suddenly in a last-minute panic to flee with precious lives, livestock, agricultural equipment et al being lost in the mad scramble for dry ground.
This chaotic descent into hell was, to a large degree, completely avoidable and those who complacently sat watching the approaching spectacle on television, listened to radio reports tracking the torrent as it neared and yet failed to pack up and leave until the river arrived on their doorsteps must have had their collective heads in dreamland. Did they expect a miracle to occur, the ground to open up and swallow the spreading water leaving them safe and sound or did they, as is often taken for granted, simply expect someone to wave a magic wand to make the nightmare evaporate as if it had never been?
The government, local authorities, feudal lords and any one at all with an interest in alleviating misery before it had chance to happen, should have been down river of Nowshera organising escape routes, setting up and provisioning camps and generally acting as ‘respected’ leaders should but no. No such luck. Everyone, especially those who could have motivated people to get out of the flood path, sat around talking and talking and talking without getting off their idle behinds to actually do something about it.
The flood could, quite obviously, not be stopped. The water was going hell for leather towards the coast where, as the meteorological department pointed out, its arrival would coincide with a full moon high tide which would prevent it from quietly flowing out to sea, forcing it to inundate more low-lying villages and towns instead and still no one had the gumption to take the emergency steps called for until the last possible second when, for livestock at least, it was already far too late.
Nothing could be done to prevent or even mitigate the effect of torrential rain in Gilgit-Baltistan or in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa even though heavy rain had been forecast at least two weeks in advance. However, no one, least of all the meteorological department, guessed its intensity. And even if they had they couldn’t have prevented the hill torrents and the landslides, the latter a direct result of massive deforestation by the timber mafia over the years.
Downstream, though, was a completely different matter and one is left wondering if those who were in a position to act didn’t do so because they either don’t give a hoot or viewed the impending flood as a god-given opportunity to clear squatters off land that could, possibly, be used more profitably. Whatever the reason for this criminal negligence though, it is totally and utterly unforgivable.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2010.
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