At the mercy of the floods

Many of the deaths reported from across the country have occurred as a result of roofs or walls caving in.

Editorial August 05, 2013
A man covers his head while walking amid heavy rain in Islamabad. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/EXPRESS

The monsoon havoc, which has become so much the norm this time of the year in our country, is with us once again. The headlines in newspapers, the photographs accompanying them and the images on television screens are familiar — too familiar. Already, in just two days, over 80 people have been killed as the rains poured down over much of the country — including southern Punjab, Balochistan, parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi. Karachi has been reduced to chaos with two days of rain; some 20 people were killed in the downpour on August 4 alone, mainly as a result of roof collapses. Ten more died in Balochistan — and there are real fears the toll could climb with the town of Jhal Magsi in Balochistan likely to be hit by a torrent rolling in from the hills. Not unnaturally, panic has hit the area, which has experienced similar peril before.

The hilly terrain of some parts of Balochistan, including Jhal Magsi, Jafarabad and Naseerabad districts, makes them particularly vulnerable to floods, with water gushing into settlements as it pours off the surrounding higher grounds. All three districts have suffered before, with mass displacement seen as a result. This is already taking place again, as villages are inundated, causing houses to collapse. Seven districts of Balochistan are reported to be affected, with more rains also forecast for the days ahead. As always, it is the poor who live in inadequate housing, who are worst affected. Many of the deaths reported from across the country have occurred as a result of roofs or walls caving in.

A crucial question arises here. Are we really entirely helpless against the flooding? Can we do nothing to prevent the amount of damage they cause or, at least, prevent such massive loss of life? Following the devastating floods of 2010 — widely believed to be the worst in the country’s history — local disaster management agencies and international humanitarian groups wrote up long reports on what could be done to prevent such havoc. More such reports came in after the 2011 floods, which most adversely affected Sindh. A series of early warning systems, means to increase resilience and measures to channel water flows away from settlements were recommended. In a study conducted after the floods, the aid agency Oxfam noted Pakistan was not doing enough to improve its disaster preparedness. Its report issued clear-cut warnings about the potential consequences of this.

Sadly, these and other warnings were ignored. We need some answers from authorities as to why this happened; why there was so much indifference to the plight of people and why this neglect continues. Indeed, the ravages they have suffered over past years means people are even less able to sustain the damage the new round of rains have brought, with many, notably in Sindh, still to be re-housed after flooding in previous years. Many in Badin and other districts, also affected in 2012, continue to live in rudimentary, makeshift shelters. A large number have lost their means of livelihood as a result of the destruction of lands and crops.

So, where are the authorities — the civic agencies; the disaster management bodies? In Karachi, as life came to a standstill after the rain, there was certainly no sign of a set-up in place to manage the city. The suspension of officials in Gadap Town and other areas after the event certainly does nothing to help people who have suffered badly as a result of flooding. We must also ask what role the National Disaster Management Authority, and the provincial set-ups linked to it, has been playing. The primary purpose of the body, set up after the 2005 earthquake, was to help plan for disaster, prevent loss of life where possible and tackle post-disaster situations. None of this has happened, the latest rains have inflicted huge suffering and we fear this may increase with the monsoon season, as yet, far from over, unless emergency steps are taken.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2013.

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Aysha M | 10 years ago | Reply

The Kamalness of Mustafa is dearly missed by all in Karachi, because he cared and it showed. Mustafa Kamal was Karachi’s knight in the shining armour. Karachi needs Kamal’s excellence, expertise and earnestness and inexhaustible energy and infectious enthusiasm. Kamal has it all and Karachi needs it all. The high standards of performance he set, the dynamism, dedication and devotion, he demonstrated, was completely unheard of in a public representative in Pakistan. Mustafa Kamal was phenomenal. People from other parts of the country were clamouring to have a Mustafa Kamal for their cities. He became an icon for the youth and a star politician.

From the Supreme Court to the sordid political rivals, he was acknowledged by all. Mustafa Kamal was praised by the Supreme Court of Pakistan for his untiring efforts to make Karachi a megacity and for carrying out relief and development work, which transcended ethnicities, political affliations and vote bank. Mustafa Kamal’s worst adversaries were dumbstruck and Pakistan was awestruck.

Karachi is a difficult, diverse and perhaps a dramatic city. There are 13 independent authorities for areas like KPT, Steel Mills, DHA etc. Mustafa Kamal's experience as Mayor remained much different from mayors of megacities around the world. He had fragmented jurisdiction of areas in the city and unlike other mayors he didnot have control over public services such as police, transportation and the utilities. He also had to constantly battle with an intricate and at times ignoble central bureaucracy. Despite the odds, he demonstrated unwavering commitment to the good of the people of Karachi and developed the first ever master plan for the city. First time in the history of Pakistan, Karachi had a real makeover. There was a massive development of infrastructure during the years Kamal had held office and managed more projects than all the other mayors put together. Karachi got a new, advanced and modern look. In a corrupt culture where plundering public coffers is a norm, it seemed like the budget for Karachi was honestly and appropriately spent. There was not a single case of financial irregularity against this outstanding man of substance and character.

In Karachi Mustafa Kamal was physically present and emotionally invested in the development work and remained engaged round the clock. People and media saw him on the roads even during the monsoon season. Defying cost, constraints and caustic political resistance of local gangs in Lyari, he developed underground water supply system for the deprived people of the area. He owned and served all in Karachi.

Outside Karachi, he did us proud by earning a star welcome at Capitol Hill and lecturing at Columbia University as an urban policy maker. He became a symbol of innovation in city planning. He encouraged foreign investment and attracted $1.8 billion of Foreign Direct Investment. He played a key role in developing international ties. Karachi and Houston were declared sister cities. Mustafa Kamal posted Karachi on the global scene with a promise that it would emerge as another Dubai.

Above all, Mustafa Kamal was truly inspirational. He gave Karachites a renewed sense of belonging and belief and hope. Hope that good things can happen in the strife torn and politically volatile city of Karachi. Hope that the hard working and driven Karachites may once again be seen as a peace loving, liberal and globally competitive community. Hope that we can live in Karachi and feel alive.

All of what Mustafa Kamal did was possible because power was devolved to city governments. City governments form the third tier and bedrock of governance and can manage the civic life of the people. It is not a job meant for parliamentarians. It is a shame that bureaucrats are preferred over elected local representatives. An appointed bureaucrat does not have interest or stakes high enough to be fully engaged to sort out the challenges and issues of the city. If those in power are interested in serving the people of Pakistan, LB elections should be held at the earliest. Only a truly local leadership can reach out and put their feet on ground to serve people. Sadly, what Karachi is facing today is because of the absence of a committed local government.

Karachi’s very own, down to earth super hero, Mustafa Kamal, please do something and come back from Krypton to Karachi.

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