Monsoon deluge: a calamity or opportunity?
The recent monsoon rains have wreaked havoc on infrastructure, crops, livestock, and human lives in all four provinces of Pakistan.
In Sindh, several districts of Karachi have been inundated due to recent rains, leading to the suspension of utility services to these districts for many days. Economic activities in the affected areas of Karachi were also brought to halt. The main nullahs of Karachi flowed over despite the emergency steps taken by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Due to the hue and cry raised in the media, all the political stalwarts of major political parties visited Karachi, sympathised with the people, blamed the federal government, and left. Now, the PM has visited and announced a relief package for Karachi, to be implemented in coordination with the provincial government and the army. It remains to be seen how this relief package implementation pans out.
There have also been flash floods in several districts of Balochistan, causing loss of life and property, and displacement of families. The road infrastructure has been badly affected, and many areas have been cut-off from main highways. However, Balochistan has neither been as lucky as Karachi in terms of political and media coverage nor has it attracted the attention or visits of any heavyweight political stalwarts, either of ruling or opposition parties. Balochistan is the least developed of all the four provinces and its people deserve greater attention from the federal government.
There have also been flash floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), chiefly Swat district, again causing loss of life and property. The Chief Minister of KP has announced a relief package for the affected areas and the media has been informed that CM KP is taking a personal interest in efforts to rehabilitate the affected communities and areas. Similar scenarios are being witnessed in central Punjab and some districts of interior Sindh. Flood warnings have been issued for people living along the main rivers, and the army is assisting the local administration to help people move to safer places. However, again, these calamity-hit areas have not been visited by political stalwarts.
At present, discussions are raging in media—print, electronic and social—about the negligence of provincial authorities in mitigating the loss caused by the recent rains. To their defence, all administrations of the four provinces have attributed more than normal monsoon rains as the cause of distress and destruction faced by the common people, and have promised full support. We may have the next few monsoon seasons with below-average rainfall which could result in water scarcity, and again the administrations of four provinces would blame water scarcity on below-average monsoon rains. And this roulette would continue, as it has in the past. Thus, the monsoon season has been a source of calamity for us, in either scenario.
However, water reservoirs and natural lakes have benefitted from the recent deluge. Keenjhar Lake, which was suffering due to illegal occupation of its water catchment areas by local politically influential people, has been rejuvenated due to recent unprecedented rains, and fishermen living around Keenjhar Lake hope for some good fishing seasons. Similarly, other lakes such as Rawal Lake—whose rainwater catchment areas have been affected by illegal housing societies, has also benefited from recent rains. Similarly, small dams supplying water to major cities such as Karachi, Islamabad, and Rawalpindi have also benefitted from recent rains.
Unfortunately, there has hardly been any discussion on how much volume of water has been wasted to the sea in the recent rains, because of lack of water reservoirs which could store water during heavy monsoon seasons, and thus help prevent not only flash floods and loss of life and property, but also help local irrigation and replenish underground water table. Regrettably, for more than seventy years of existence, we, as a nation, have not been able to reach a consensus on the necessity of large water reservoirs for water storage and power generation. However, performance in the area of constructing small dams, which is the prerogative of provincial governments, is even further dismal. In official papers, many small dams have been proposed or approved to store rainwater and help prevent flash floods in all the provinces, especially in KP and Balochistan. But how many have been built is still a many million-dollar question. Thus, keeping the contentious issue of constructing big dams aside, if we, as a nation, had built small dams, these heavy monsoon rains could be a source of opportunity for us.
There is a famous Chinese proverb, ‘In every crisis, there is an opportunity’. It is high time that we—using the present crisis created due to unprecedented monsoon rains—set our priorities right and align our policies accordingly. Our population is growing; we need to grow more grain to feed this growing population, for which we need to construct more water reservoirs, both big and small. Otherwise, we might end up listed as one of the ‘most water-scarce countries in the world’, and the consequences of being a water-scarce country with a large population to feed would be ruinous.
The writer is a freelance columnist.