It is baffling that Pakistan’s urban planners have still not recognised in its 71-year history that the country receives annual monsoon rain. Every year, the nation faces extensive power outages and increased flooding, which endanger lives and causing extensive damage.
July3, 2018, saw the worst rain yet, when a record-breaking amount poured over the country, according to WASA Lahore. The historical Mall Road of Lahore, already subjected to the horrendous burden of the Orange Line, collapsed on itself in front of the General Post Office (GPO) and water continued to pour into the enormous sinkhole that formed.
Images are circulating of cars that are flooded with rainwater or plunged upside down into holes. Yet signal free corridors with zero drainage systems are considered the best development projects. Economic losses caused by natural disasters to ill-prepared infrastructures cost the nation much more than building them in the first place. Are projects such as the Orange Line equipped for the onset of more such disasters?
According to LEAD’s 2015 research paper Economic losses from Disasters, in 2010 alone monsoon rain caused massive flooding that affected 20 million people, killed 2000, and left 7.8 million food insecure. This culminated in a total economic loss of $16 billion. Not to mention, disasters such as flooding begin the onset of disease, which our already burdened health system is unable to handle. Yet there is no real way to account for all our losses when according to the same LEAD report, disaster data is incomplete, scattered across various organisations, is usually inaccessible, and can be unauthentic.
Climate change is hitting Pakistan harder and harder every year since 2010 with extreme heat, unprecedented storms, droughts and floods. Over 80 per cent of these disasters are climate related, and it is estimated that these could cost the economy $14 billion a year, which is almost five per cent of the GDP.
Many are incorrectly seeing this rain as a blessing amidst a national water crisis. What they do not understand is that this kind of precipitation has only worsened our problem. When such torrential rain inundates our sewage lines, it contaminates all existing freshwater. This water will stand still for days (meaning greater chances of the dengue mosquitos thriving) or shall pour into our rivers and streams. Those who think it will replenish our underground water table and rivers, are severely misinformed.
The water cycle is a complicated process that works in wholes, not parts. Firstly, in urban centres there is only concrete thus all that water has gone to waste, as it will simply evaporate. Farming areas do offer this potential. However, with excessive tilling of the land and use of pesticides and fertilisers, the soil has become increasingly infertile due to the loss of carbon. A barren land (i.e. without carbon) reduces its water carrying capacity. Thus, none of the water is actually retained in the soil.
Lastly, with incalculable deforestation and the inability of soil to retain water, there is a lack of vegetation. Vegetation is crucial to the water cycle as it plays the imperative roles of transpiration and assisting the soil to remain fertile. Transpiration is the process whereby water is transferred from the roots to the leaves, into the atmosphere where water condenses to form rain clouds. Without vegetation, nothing is holding the soil together, which increases surface run-off causing healthier soil and a lot of sediment to roll into streams and dams causing flash floods.
One major solution to Pakistan’s water crisis is rainwater harvesting, where rainwater is accumulated from clean surfaces and stored for future use. According to a study, 74 potential water-harvesting sites were identified on the Pothohar plateau alone, which receives 70 per cent of its precipitation from the monsoon
Although the earth is covered with 70 per cent water, only two per cent of this is available to the eight-billion strong global population. Freshwater sources include underground aquifers, rivers, streams, lakes, snow and glaciers. With a lot of the water frozen in glaciers, this means that of the two per cent, only 1.5 per cent of potable water is actually available.
One major solution to Pakistan’s water crisis is rainwater harvesting, where rainwater is accumulated from clean surfaces and stored for future use. According to a research undertaken by Mr Ghani et al, 74 potential water-harvesting sites were identified on the Pothohar plateau alone, which receives 70 per cent of its precipitation from monsoon rainfall annually.
This could be a great solution for farmers who can no longer rely on canal, tube-well and barrage irrigation. Urban centres could benefit from ideas such as that of Pitch Africa, which built schools and football stadiums where rainwater is accumulated in the roofs of these buildings.
As things stand, all the water that flooded our cities has gone to complete waste. To reduce the water crisis, we need to do more than build the Kalabagh dam — which is merely a short-term solution.
We must pool in all our best resources for a holistic approach. Soil fertility must be increased, more indigenous trees must be planted, water must be recycled wherever possible, awareness must be created so less water is wasted, deforestation must be curbed and urban centres must be designed sustainably to withstand natural disasters and not harm the environment.
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