AnalysisEnvironmentMonsoon

Urban Floods Again: What we have not learned?

Our cities and towns are blocked by real estate investors.

Our quick-fix type town planners, architects and civil engineers give an impression that urban towers, residential plazas and commercial malls are hanged somewhere in the sky.

They have erected ugly structures over depressions, ponds lakes and waterways.

Dr. Zaffar Junejo

Based on my limited knowledge and exposure, I have restricted this brief article only to Sindh’s cities and towns. However, it is too generic. If these warned words don’t hold you to stop reading, then, my terms apply, and you have to ponder over them. These are requisites: 1) settlements or even spaces are footed on physical geography; 2) change in physical geography affects human built-structures, and 3) different settlements irrespective of their forms are conditioned by local geography, 4) natural laws also apply to geography’s key principles.

Now, you may read the further paragraphs. These start here: our quick-fix type town planners, architects and civil engineers give an impression that urban towers, residential plazas and commercial malls are hanged somewhere in the sky. Therefore, none of them pays necessary heed to natural laws. Even their plans bypass preconditions of physical geography and human geography subjects.  Surely there was no question to expect from them to refer historical data related to rainfalls, floods, and disasters. Perhaps, they believe, Sindh’s cities exist beyond Earth’s atmospheric sphere, and are immune from any climatic change or physical laws. Really, I don’t know that with what confidence, they continued erecting their ugly structures over depressions, ponds lakes and waterways. Interestingly, it is not a case of Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur or Larkana. It has happened in every town.

Pakistan Peoples’ Party’s bad governance has pushed Sindh towards a new set of vulnerabilities.

I could say so, because I noticed it through Sindhi newspapers. I double checked, and spoke to my old NGO friends to get firsthand information. They confirmed newspapers reports, and told lot of incidents of havoc- none of governments’ representatives came to help, rain water stands everywhere, all natural ways, vacant government plots are occupied by local politicians of Pakistan Peoples’ Party, and other powerful persons belonging to various parties. They sadly told that soon stagnant water will harbor mosquitoes- then malaria, and contiguous diseases will lead towards another type of emergency.

The newspaper reports and conversation with friends compelled me to come up with some initial reasons of urban flood. These are findings: 1) conversion of adjacent agriculture lands into built-up areas, 2) occupation of empty spaces, 3) encroachment of waterways and drains, 4) cutting and eliminating of trees and gardens 4) and construction of ring-roads without considering typography of the area. One may say that our cities and towns are blocked by real estate investors.

photo 2We must realize that nowadays, unpredictable rains are part of climate change, but Pakistan Peoples’ Party’s bad governance has pushed Sindh towards a new set of vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities are surfaced in emergencies and disasters. The case in point is of the current urban flood, which has exposed Sindh to physical, institutional and social vulnerabilities.

Let me unpack these vulnerabilities; the first one says the present government has failed to control land use, unplanned urbanization, and concentration of population in certain cities. Likewise, an institutional vulnerability means a raise in illegal settlements, theft of services (water, electricity and gas), and non-coordinated spatial-planning. However, in social vulnerabilities one could see gender biases, high rate of crime, frequent violence, institutions’ corruption, and officers’ incapacity to handle even minor emergencies.

Now the question before us is of action – what should be done? Or how we could halt these vulnerabilities? But, before that we should also consider that Sindh’s population is increasing, one lead factor is influx of illegal migrations. Resultantly, existing resources and infrastructures particularly of Karachi city are under pressure.

The present scene has unnaturally raised the value of land, and simultaneously houses are in demand. Therefore, builders in Karachi came forward and co-opt Sindh government’s officers to fill the supply side. It is all done in a haphazard way and every inch of land was turned into settlements. The greed and poor laws facilitated land grabbers to occupy public lands. They organized migrant and poor peoples’ settlements over the shoulders of waterways and drains.  Gradually, these settlements narrowed beds of waterways and drain, and water carrying capacity of those channels reduced. So, whenever, there is heavy rain they over-flow. It must be noted that these land grabbers lack individual memory, simply they don’t know where existed old waterways, drains or depressions. Therefore, in rain emergency they block the water’s way just to save their colony, but such blockage floods adjacent area, and inhabitant of that area follow the precedent act, they also block and divert the water and flood their neighborhood. Gradually, in a record time the whole of the city is flooded.

Our land use experts, and town planners must understand that urban flood risk management always trade-off among history, physical geography and physical planning subjects. Nowadays, urban floods are one of the lead hazards in cities and towns. These floods are potential to cause economic losses as well as trigger negative impacts on social development and environment. We shouldn’t forget urban flood’s quickness and damage in short spell of time.

Now again revert to earlier question, where lies the solution? Globally, there are three sets solutions to avert the urban flood. These are: 1) engineering solutions (construction new drains, smart towns, and creating artificial lakes and piping them to natural water sources), 2) socio-economic solutions (creating more employment opportunities in migrants’ home districts/provinces, and keeping their records) and, 3) planning and management solutions (promote ideas of green homes, rain water harvesting, tightening land laws, including building laws, severe punishment for land grabber). It must be well understood that each government opts different strategies, considering its political considerations. However, in the case of Sindh, we have to pressurize Sindh Government to come up with a grand strategy that handles all these proposed solutions.

phots 3I fully understand that Sindh Government is not too sensitive about lives and property of people of Sindh. Therefore, allow me to propose a doable plan to town planners and administers. It is simple, while planning a settlement they have to consider types of surfaces, topography of the area, locations of ponds, lakes and flow of natural waterways and drains. But, we should be very clear that urban flood is not scary word, simply it is a rain water that strives to find its way, and it may be a depression or a slope that has been blocked.

We shouldn’t forget that rain water being natural force is blind to distinguish that it has intruded into a poor man’s home or rich man’s castle. It is even insensitive to know that it has flooded temple, mosque, church or school. Water has to move on, keep a flow and follow natural law. It is character of water. Therefore, in present situation we have let only two options: clean and vacate all old waterways, drains or bound water to avoid physical law and listen our stupidity.

_____________________

Dr. Zaffar Junejo- Sindh CourierDr. Zaffar Junejo has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Malaya. His areas of interest are post-colonial history, social history and peasants’ history.

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