Deaths call for introspection
The death toll in avalanches, landslides and other rain-related incidents during the current spell of rains across the country has risen to 93. Most of the damage is caused in Neelum valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Balochistan. This figure could further go up as some areas are still unreachable due to heavy snowfall and people remain stranded in far off villages and/or buried in the collapsed buildings. As reports suggest, 66 people have been killed in the AJK, 20 in Balochistan in the past couple of days. As we write there were reports of road closures in the mountainous regions of the country.
Prime Minister Imran Khan through a tweet directed the NDMA, the military and federal ministers to provide all humanitarian assistance on an emergency footing to the affected people in the AJK. Through an ISPR statement, the Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa expressed grief over the loss of precious lives due to snowslide in the AJK and Balochistan and directed for continued assistance to civil administration for rescue and relief operation.
In Balochistan, many link roads were clogged as the area received four to five-foot snow, sending the temperature down to minus 11. Most deaths occurred due to avalanches, and collapsing of roofs. Most of these deaths were preventable if citizens as well as the government had taken preventive measures. After the earthquake of 2005 it was abundantly clear that over 70, 000 fatalities were the result of faulty, substandard and earthquake nonresistant housing structures. In the aftermath, there was a lot of discussion around structures that could withstand the weather vagaries.
Both Balochistan and the AJK governments do not boast hefty budgets and shall need the help of the federal government to be able to help the people who are in most need. The respective disaster management authorities too have been doing some commendable work in search, rescue and recovery, there is however much more that needs to be done.
From the way we are reacting to the emergency, it looks as if we are caught off guard. Mostly there is knee-jerk reaction. Stockpiles of food, medicines, tents and other stuff needed during such emergencies are not ready. Disaster management authorities that are in existence now for over a decade should have known better. It is not clear whether they have sufficient funds allocated already? Particularly when more rains and snowfall is likely in the weeks ahead.
With the advancement in meteorological technology, we ideally should have known what was coming and with what intensity and simultaneously there should have been alerts issued to the vulnerable populations.
Lastly, it is no secret that it is the climate change that is acting up. All records of heat and cold are broken during this decade. This current snowfall too has broken some previous records. Previously it was thought that it only the heat that shall increase and which was the case in the previous years as well but now we know it is the unpredictability of the weather that should concern us the most and we should be prepared to face any weather condition at a short notice. The better prepared a people are, the greater are the chances of their survival.