Flood Damages Accentuated due to Construction
Encroachment Along Waterways

Flood Damages Accentuated due to Construction Encroachment Along Waterways

By Zahaab Rehman

What actually happened?

Many debates have been racked up on the disaster that struck Pakistan mid-june this year: flooding on a massive scale not witnessed before hit more than one-third of the country, affecting millions and destroying almost a million homes. The impact of the catastrophe was far- reaching, traveling across sectors such as infrastructure, tourism, healthcare, and education. As experts tried to make sense of the calamity that had unfolded right before their eyes, many theories made their way to the table, with some being debunked right off the bat and others being considered on a deeper level. From some calling it the Will of God, to others pinning the blame on climate change, what do we think was the cause behind these floods that caused devastation we’ll require months, if not years, to fix?

Was it climate change?

All scientific experts are currently pointing to one explanation: this was climate change giving us a warning that we’re running out of time. And yes, according to many studies, climate change was the main culprit. BBC found that from June till August, Pakistan received more than 190% more rainfall than the average of the last thirty years. Experts came out using phrases like ‘monsoon monster of the decade’ and ‘monsoon on steroids,’ and yet, can we agree that climate change is the only cause to be blamed here?
If evaluated realistically, climate change is not a new phenomenon, with an international discourse on it being around for decades at this point. If there’s anything that we have learned from the conversations on international forums, it’s that we need measures of mitigation and prevention because climate change is here to stay. Why is it then that our infrastructure wasn’t even the slightest bit equipped to hold its ground in a catastrophe like this? Why did our systems start breaking down at the first signs of calamity? Is it just climate change, or is it our own negligence?

What do experts say?

Every year in the summers, a shifting wind pattern draws heavy rainfall to Pakistan, causing small-scale floods to occur almost every year, even in the most developed cities of the country, namely Karachi and Lahore. In other cities like Islamabad, even instances of cloud bursts have led to minor flooding in a few areas in the city. Not to forget, Pakistan has suffered the calamity of widespread flooding across the country once before as well, in 2010. Why is it then that flood mitigation isn’t an area of concern when we design our infrastructure?
In this study, when the authors mention that this disaster wasn’t the impact of a one-time extreme event rather than a vulnerability constructed over the years, they are referring to climate change. And so is Sherry Rehman when she asks us to call the flooding not a natural event but rather a man-made one. But here’s what we need to note: climate change might have lined up the dominoes, but our disastrous infrastructure is what caused them to fall.

Where does urbanization fall in?

Auroop Ganguly, an Indian expert in civil and environmental engineering, mentions the importance of climate resilience and adaptation in light of the increasing impacts of global warming. Factors such as population growth, increased urbanization, changes in land use, and aging infrastructure have worsened the effect that climate change has today, even if the degree of the calamity is the same as what it was years ago.
And urbanization is not even the biggest problem; its unplanned version is a significant disease that Pakistani cities seem to suffer from. Due to a lack of stringent laws and corruption in the authoritative departments, many illegal affairs tend to escape accountability, and it’s their impact that we then deal with in the form of flood damages.

What illegal affairs are we talking about?

The overall problem of lack of infrastructural planning is a significant issue. The infrastructure we construct is never strong enough to withstand the impacts of climate disasters; however, that’s a slightly separate conversation. There’s another villain here: encroachments and mismanagement. Take this as an example: despite the owner claiming it to be flood-resistant, the famous Honeymoon Hotel from Kalam has washed away in both floods, 2010 and 2022. Where was it built? Right atop a river. It doesn’t help that many of these rivers close to commercial or residential buildings also lack proper embankments, which is why they’re unable to contain the extra water. In the areas which do have embankments, they’re constructed poorly with mud and sand. If someone were to see these ‘protections’ out of context, they’d think that Pakistan had never been hit by floods before and had no threat of being hit by them in the years to come.
Another problem is the katchi abadis in many of these cities, including Islamabad, which have been built right on top of sewers. Each time in the monsoon season, these sewers flood, causing all the people living in these katchi abadis to be affected. To add on, even ‘proper’ infrastructure is often constructed on natural floodplains, endangering the buildings as soon as they stand up.
Not to mention that even a lot of these bigger buildings built alongside riverbanks are also illegal. When the issue is raised up with the government, a circus plays out of blame games and throwing someone else in the fire. However, as much as we would like to shift blame, the truth is that the situation has reached here due to decades of negligence and corrupt behavior. So in a way, the blood of all the flood victims is on the hands of everyone who has allowed this to persist for so long. Name it corruption, poor planning, inadequate water management, or bad governance, it all points to one thing - these floods are entirely a manufactured disaster.
In a country where you have chief ministers claiming that it would take three to six months just to drain out the flood water, you can imagine what the sad state of infrastructural affairs is. The climate disaster has struck, and we are not the least bit prepared to deal with it.

How do we fix this?

The answer is straightforward: proper implementation of infrastructure laws and regulations. We need to recognize the existing problems in our infrastructure and start by fixing them. For instance, encroachments built near water bodies and on floodplains must be demolished before the floods hit them, causing a loss of life and property. Other housing alternatives need to be determined for the people living in the katchi abadies. Proper protective embankments made of solid materials need to be built at the edges of water bodies, able to keep overflowing water at bay. Infrastructural plans need to be drawn up for the years to come, ones that have taken into account the potential threat Pakistan faces of flooding. In addition to climate change mitigation, more resilient infrastructure needs to be built along with better warning systems. And lastly, the implementation needs to be ensured.  The problem at hand is not going to be an easy one to tackle. It is going to require collective efforts from governmental authorities, city administrations, climate change advocacy organizations, and, most importantly, in this case: civil and environmental engineers. The path to recovery will be difficult, but it will only get tougher the longer we wait, so we need to begin today.


https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/climate-change-likely-increased-extreme-monsoon- rainfall-flooding-highly-vulnerable-communities-in-pakistan/ 
https://www.carbonbrief.org/climate-change-likely-increased-extreme-rainfall-that-led-to- pakistan-flooding/#:~:text=Multiple%20Authors,- Joe%20GoodmanAyesha&text=The%20record%2Dbreaking%20monsoon%20rainfall,than%20i ts%2030%2Dyear%20average. 
https://www.nation.com.pk/30-Aug-2022/mismanagement-encroachments-reasons-behind- flood-devastation-in-kp 
https://www.dawn.com/news/1707617 /

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