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Flooding in Pakistan: A grave consequence of climate change

Tariq Mahmood Khan, a lecturer at the University of Central Punjab, Faisalabad Campus, discusses Pakistan's increasing vulnerability towards climate change and its consequences in the future. He further talks about a recent flood in Islamabad and how Pakistan lacks urbanization management.

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Humanity is facing natural calamities on earth since times unknown. Different geographical areas are exposed to specific types of natural factors, so the nature of calamities is different everywhere. People living in the sub-continent face various types of calamities such as earthquakes, famines, droughts, heatwaves and numerous others. Among these, floods are the most common. When the rivers, in this area overflow, the surrounding areas are flooded.

This phenomenon is repeated almost every year, so floods are common here which are mild in nature. However, sometimes these floods become harsh causing a higher degree of damages due to high rains and glacial melts. The British government started building a canal irrigation system here about 150 years ago. They also constructed water reservoirs and bunds along rivers which helped in controlling the floods, however, we were unable to control them fully. The frequency of such floods was low in the past years, but now it is increasing with the passage of time. Climatic changes are the major cause of the increasing atrocities of these floods.

Read more: Private sector steps forward to help address the challenge of climate change in Pakistan

The increasing threat of climate change

Pakistan ranks fifth in the list of countries that are most vulnerable to these climatic changes. We are experiencing unusual weather patterns. According to an estimate, the earth’s mean temperature has risen up to 1.5oC from the pre-industrial level that has increased the evaporation from the earth’s surface causing a greater level of precipitation. It has also affected the rain patterns. In recent years, these rains have caused floods in different parts of the country. These floods are more powerful in intensity, unusual and destructive in nature.

Usually, these floods hit the rural areas damaging the crops, livestock, forests and infrastructure of these remote areas. In simple words, mostly the rural economy is disturbed. No effective planning and practical steps are being taken by the relevant government authorities, neither in the past nor present, to solve this issue. So, these rural areas are ever exposed to such floods and their damages. Relief work has always been very poor and without any compensation from the government. However, these floods are now changing the geographical targets from rural to urban areas.

Urban flooding is, now, a very common phenomenon in Pakistan especially during the last couple of years. In 2020, Karachi was very badly flooded whereas some sectors of Islamabad also faced it this year. The intensity of these floods was very high so they were more damaging for the infrastructure like houses, roads, buildings and other installations. These floods are more destructive in nature than rural floods. The most important cause of these floods is climatic change. Our urban areas are getting more rain than the average. On the contrary, they are also exposed to heat waves.

Read more: Climate change crises: A new foremost priority of Pakistan

Both of these phenomena are due to climate change. Our cities are the climate hotspots. Many practices on the part of the public and private sectors are beefing up the issue such as the use of green areas for residential and commercial purposes. Decreasing the amount of greenery in urban areas and the spread of the jungle of concrete along with the emission of greenhouse gases is adding to this problem.

Lack of Urban management in Pakistan

Pakistan is the most urbanized in the region so it needs strong urban management authorities. Unfortunately, the matter is contrary to it. Most of our big cities lack a comprehensive master plan. Islamabad is the only city with a master plan but we find great changes in this master plan with its expansion. Our big cities future lies in the hands of real estate developers. They are exploiting the resources of big cities, and even smaller ones, in accordance with their own financial benefits. This is incompetence on the behalf of urban authorities. Its biggest example is the Sector E-11 of Islamabad where the rainwater coming down of the Margalas, has a natural drain that was about two hundred feet wide.

During the last couple of years, the land of this nullah was sold by the land mafia remaining it just twenty feet wide. This caused a bottleneck in this drain causing a flood in this area. Similar stories are told about the last year’s Karachi urban flooding. We need climate compatible master plans devised by urban authorities for our cities because their present incompetence is enhancing the effect of climate change. Another reason for its severity is the poor relief mechanism.

Read more: Climate change crisis: What should Pakistan do to save itself?

It seems that this phenomenon of urban flooding will increase and even can be more destructive in the future. Our urban planners are required to deal with this problem on scientific grounds. Only the climate change specific considerations are the solution to this problem. This can be done more precisely if both public and private sectors come along side by side.

The author is a lecturer in Pak. Studies and Head of Social Studies Department at the University of Central Punjab, Faisalabad Campus. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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