Baltimore Sun

Pakistan’s monsoon season worsens

Climate change, poor planning lead to more devastatio­n

- By Zia Ur-Rehman, Christina Goldbaum and Salman Masood

KARACHI, Pakistan — Year after year in Kausar Niazi Colony, a slum in the port city of Karachi, Murtaza Hussain and his neighbors watched as monsoon rains flooded into their homes, damaging furniture, television­s and other precious valuables.

So when particular­ly heavy monsoon rains began drenching Karachi this month, Hussain braced for more of the same.

“It took us nearly two days to clean the water and get the house back to normal. There was no help from the government,” said Hussain, 45, who works in a textile factory. “Every year, the government says there will be no flooding, but the problem is getting worse.”

Every year, Pakistan struggles to cope with the monsoon season, which batters the country from June through August and which sets off widespread criticism over poor government planning.

But the season this year has been especially brutal, offering an urgent reminder that in an era of global warming, extreme weather events are increasing­ly the norm across the region — and that Pakistan’s major cities remain woefully ill equipped to handle them.

Monsoon rains have killed at least 304 people over the past five weeks, and has also damaged critical infrastruc­ture, such as highways and bridges, and around 5,600 homes, authoritie­s said.

Pakistan has long ranked among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, according to the Global Climate Risk Index,

which tracks the human and economic toll of extreme weather events. The country is estimated to have lost nearly 10,000 lives to climate-related disasters and suffered about $4 billion in losses between 1998 and 2018.

There are signs that the climate-related devastatio­n will worsen in the coming years, experts say.

The rains this year have been 87% heavier than the average downpour, according to Sherry Rehman, the country’s minister for climate change, who linked the new weather pattern to climate change.

She warned that the country should prepare for more flooding and damage to infrastruc­ture as its glaciers continue to melt at an accelerate­d pace, causing flash floods.

“This is a national disaster,” Rehman said this month.

Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, experience­d record rainfall just two years ago.

This month’s monsoon rains broke records yet again, according to Syed Murad Ali Shah, Sindh province’s chief minister — raising questions about how the country’s economic hub might survive if the trend continues.

The floods have turned main roads into rivers. Houses have been filled with sewage. Electricit­y has been suspended for hours or days to prevent exposed wires from coming into contact with water in the streets and electrocut­ing people.

The devastatio­n has brought the port city to a standstill for days and killed at least 31 people, many of whom were electrocut­ed or drowned after roofs and walls collapsed on top of them, according to the provincial disaster agency.

The devastatio­n has also set off an outcry from residents over the lack of government preparedne­ss to deal with urban flooding.

Even before the rains flooded Karachi, the city

was in shambles, with roads crumbling and slums expanding, and was deprived of basic government services although it provides Pakistan with about 40% of its revenue.

But even in the city’s more affluent areas, the rains have wreaked havoc.

Murtaza Wahab, the Karachi administra­tor, said that the city has an old drainage and sewage infrastruc­ture that could not cope with the torrential rains and acknowledg­ed that updates were critical.

But he said the city fared better this year than in 2020 because the government began clearing clogged drains ahead of time and built some new ones.

In August 2020, another devastatin­g monsoon season pummeled Karachi, killing more than 40 people and battering an economy already struggling from the onset of the coronaviru­s pandemic.

It took weeks after the monsoon season ended to repair damage.

The floods also took a psychologi­cal toll on residents who feared even a normal rainy day could bring the city to a standstill once again.

Flood damage and a subsequent protest in Karachi pushed government officials to take steps.

Then-Prime Minister Imran Khan, announced a nearly $14 million financial package to repair chronic infrastruc­ture issues in Karachi. Thousands of makeshift homes and vendor stalls near drainage systems were demolished. The provincial government began a campaign clearing drains of heaps of garbage.

But two years later, not much has changed.

“There is no accountabi­lity,” said Amber Danish, a Karachi resident and social activist.

After the flooding began in Karachi this month, Wasim Akhtar, a former Karachi mayor, blamed the provincial authoritie­s that control the city’s local government.

“The people of Karachi pay billions in taxes to the government, but after every spell of rain, Karachi turns into a mess,” Akhtar said. “Where is all the money that the provincial government gets from the federal government?”

But Syed Murad Ali Shah blamed the severity of the rain.

“The provincial government managed the situation in the best way it could,” Shah said July 12.

Most analysts blame Pakistan’s increasing monsoon devastatio­n on a combinatio­n of factors. Climate change is causing heavier rains, government officials have shown incompeten­ce and inability to coordinate, and sporadic urban planning has left major cities particular­ly vulnerable to damage.

Coordinati­on among Pakistani city, provincial and national government­s — which are often run by different political parties with little incentive to cooperate — is practicall­y nonexisten­t. In Karachi’s case, rural voters tend to dominate polls in the province, meaning the city’s urban woes have little political consequenc­es for its provincial leaders.

And Karachi itself is a puzzle of overlappin­g administra­tive fiefs, where civilian and military administra­tions often intersect in confusing ways.

“All of these problems stem from the city being poorly governed and exploited by multiple political parties vying for control of the city’s economic resources but all failing to deliver basic services to its residents,” said Jumaina Siddiqui, senior program officer for South Asia at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

In the meantime, the city’s residents have been left to fend for themselves.

 ?? AKRAM SHAHID/GETTY-AFP ?? Commuters navigate through a monsoon-flooded street Saturday in Hyderabad, Pakistan.
AKRAM SHAHID/GETTY-AFP Commuters navigate through a monsoon-flooded street Saturday in Hyderabad, Pakistan.

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