Current rain crisis has another issue
THESE are difficult days for Pakistan on many fronts, one of which is the weather. For the past four months, the country endured the worst stretch of heatwaves the region has ever known.
At least 65 deaths are reported, millions suffered greatly while power outages occurred and agricultural losses have been high.
The extreme and unseasonal heat also caused floods through the melting of snow and ice in the mountains.
Now the monsoon clouds have arrived in Pakistan to provide relief from the heat, but not only do dangerously hot conditions still prevail in many areas, the rainfall is already bringing problems of its own on a scale far bigger than usual.
It is early July and extreme rainfall has already wreaked havoc on many parts of the country, especially Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan (though the latter’s problems are probably also being caused by persisting heatwaves).
As stated by Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman, Pakistan received monsoon rainfall 87% higher than normal for this time of year.
Most of the rainfall was in the south and southwest. Rainfall was 261% above normal in Sindh and 274% above normal in Balochistan.
As a result, nearly a hundred people have been reported dead from various rain and flood incidents since June.
Several glacial lake outburst floods have occurred in the country’s north. Hundreds of houses and roofs weakened by rainfall have collapsed, killing and injuring people, and people have been electrocuted.
Severe urban flooding has occurred in many cities, such as parts of Islamabad and Karachi. In Balochistan, heavy downpours and flash floods have been calamitous.
On July 6, 20 people were reportedly killed by rain-related incidents in Quetta, prompting a state of emergency to be declared there.
A coal-mine in Balochistan and another in Sindh, in Jhimpir, were flooded, trapping mine workers. 8 miners died in the Jhimpir mine, one of whom was 12 years old. Another potential hazard is now underway.
EidulAdha is a time when Muslims trade and slaughter livestock in large numbers. Afterwards, a lot of animal waste, like offal, is left over and, in Pakistan, people often struggle to dispose of them properly, resulting in unsanitary conditions.
But this year, it is likely to be a much bigger problem than normal, because EidulAzha will take place in the midst of this strong monsoon season.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department predicts heavy rainfall across Pakistan during Eid. Before Eid, there has been a weakening of monsoon currents (which could enable proliferation of heat), and then, over the weekend, there will likely be widespread rainfall in Sindh and Balochistan and intense rain spells in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Kashmir, and Punjab.
Low-lying areas of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, and Sialkot are likely to be submerged.
On top of that, there is the severe heat and humidity across Pakistan, which is likely to continue during Eid and after.
The combination of very wet conditions, very hot conditions, and the flesh of millions of sacrificed animals left after the EidulAdha festivities is a recipe for disaster.
Every monsoon season, Pakistan’s urban centers struggle to handle the rains and to keep the drains clear.
Waste management, which is a vital companion to water and flood management, is usually poorly managed and tends to be overwhelmed by sacrificial animal waste after EidulAdha.
The authorities right now are taking measures to ensure that animal remains are taken care of.
But if significant urban floods occur during this time, such as in Karachi where heavy rains have just taken place and have once again wreaked havoc on the city’s infrastructure and created gridlock, the offal is going to present a serious situation.
Rainwater can wash offal away into areas where they are less likely to be found and collected.
The people dealing with sacrificial animals at least dump offal in concentrated places where they can be easily gathered, but offal scattered around is much harder to clean up.
As offal remains lying about for days and weeks, as happens even in the best of times, hot, humid, and wet conditions will enable its rapid decomposition.
There can be rainfall followed by heat or heat followed by rainfall. Humidity and moisture along with heat means that the offal will be kept warm without drying out.
And if rains are bad enough, people can be stranded or come into contact with floodwaters, exposing them to the risk of diseases.
All these factors mean that Pakistan is about to face a grave sanitation issue. There are other sources of disease to also watch out for, since the summer monsoon is often a time when illness spreads.
And this season, the combination of heat and rainfall could make mosquitoes especially dangerous.
Mosquitoes, which breed in stagnant water, are most active when temperatures are above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
And if temperatures get too hot, they bite less, but the pathogens they carry get more active and infectious.
Waterborne diseases of all kinds are also more common in warm temperatures. The risk of epidemics for Pakistan in the coming months is very high.
The summer monsoon season has just begun, so if it is already so overactive, that bodes ill for what the rest of the season will bring.
Mid-July is when the rains usually come in earnest. Pakistan could face a major deluge displacing millions of people. Pakistan must be ready for what the next two months will bring.
The writer is Director at Pakistan’s People-Led Disaster Management.