Is Islamabad ready for freeze fiasco? | BY Zeenia Sadiq Satti

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Is Islamabad ready for freeze fiasco?

PAKISTAN’S Met Office has predicted that temperature would drop to near freezing in western and northwestern Sindh and below freezing in northern and northwestern Punjab.

This is caused by the entry of strong winds from Siberia because of a weak polar vortex failing to contain Arctic air.

The Siberian wind is entering Balochistan and reaching Sindh, producing freezing temperatures.

As the polar vortex becomes weaker and unstable due to climate fiasco, extremely cold temperature can move out of the arctic, causing freezing temperature in lower latitudes.

As glaciers melt, more water on earth’s surface leads to more vapour accumulation in earth’s atmosphere.

This will in turn produce more snow, more ice and more sleet as freeze sets in due to unprecedented arctic cold entering regional weather system.

Areas in Pakistan that have hitherto not known snow must brace for it now. That includes Islamabad, the capital territory and adjacent rural areas.

Islamabad is particularly vulnerable to freeze. All buildings are constructed to withstand heat, but no structural preparation is there to counter snow and ice despite proximity to areas where snow falls regularly.

Same applies to road safety management. What does road transportation need to do to minimize dangers to vehicles during icy conditions on the road?

CDA sweepers are trained to sweep away dust, debris and leaves. Do they know what to do with sleet, snow, and ice?Do they have necessary equipment and training to cope with the freeze thaw cycle i.e. , snow/sleet/ice freezing at night and thawing during day?

CDA needs to prepare for freeze fiasco. Transportation can come to standstill due to unprecedented snow turning to ice on roads.

Hazard warnings, educating citizens on what to do and what not to do in such conditions is essential.

Transportation department must minimize dangers to vehicles well in advance. The society needs to prepare for snow at household levels and CDA needs to envision management of infrastructure during the expected freeze fiasco.

The freeze thaw cycle presents dangers to pipes carrying both clean water and drainage. When liquid freezes it expands and can crack the pipes.

Unlike water that is filtered when absorbed in soil, ice stays put on ground and traps chemicals and trash in it.

When sunlight melts same, it is carried into drainage all at once. This not only leads to clogging but the repeated freeze thaw cycle that keeps exacerbating cracks in pipes can pose the danger of urban flooding during the following summer rains.

We call it Disaster Proliferation. The capital territory is home to the federal government. If coming to work is made impossible for government employees due to conditions on roads, it is necessary for federal government to plan work from home, as must all other businesses based in Islamabad and adjoining areas.

The work of some employees, however, is critical. They must be present for duty. How must they commute if road conditions are bad needs to be planned in advance if affairs of the capital territory and the federal government are to continue uninterrupted during expected freeze fiasco.

The work force venturing out needs to be told what to wear to prevent health crisis among them.

Icy condition makes even walking, let alone driving on roads, hazardous. How will essential workers commute?

These are matters the town management must plan in advance and spread awareness before freeze fiasco sets in.

Islamabad enjoys the image of being the best planned city in Pakistan. It must come forth as a role model in disaster risk reduction and disaster management.

We, the denizens of Islamabad, are lucky to avoid floods due to our topography and our excellent drainage system.

However, the same is not impervious to freeze fiasco and can easily break down if we do not work on preventing such a fate.

Extra measures must be envisaged by the municipal corporation to deal with the impact of freeze on buildings.

Such unprecedented measures may sound baffling now but are likely to become the norm in future.

Homes in Islamabad rely on gas or electricity for heating. Buildings have no alternative heating systems.

Can gas supply and electric grid handle the load during freeze fiasco? Residents can adopt traditional methods of heating such as sundli and hot water bottles should they have to survive without gas or electricity during extreme cold, which, according to a 2019 WHO study, is a greater cause of worldwide mortality than heat.

It is necessary to prepare communities for surviving unprecedented snow and ice that is now expected in Islamabad and adjacent areas.

The capital and adjoining lands harbour farms where animals are left in sheds to natural temperatures.

Extreme cold devastates animal health and is an established cause of most deaths in animals.

Farmers resort to lighting fire wood to keep animals warm but this can be a hazard during freeze fiasco as water freezes in pipes and cannot be readily available should a fire break out at barn due to being left unattended and needs to be put out with water, and when fire fighters are also not available due to icy conditions on roads.

Farmers must be educated on what to do to keep their animals warm during freeze fiasco, such as how to allow sunlight to penetrate sheds from all sides, what material to cover their sheds with at night to prevent cold winds entering and what safe heating systems to adopt for animals.

Keeping animal coats clean and covering them with appropriate coverings is necessary for ensuring farm animals’ survival during freeze fiasco.

There must be constant coverage on radio, television and print media to keep residents informed of evolving conditions and issuing instructions.

Media workers must be trained to carry out such coverage 24/7. Proper plans for ambulances and other critical transportation must be made.

Citizens nursing illness at home and hospital pharmacies must stockpile the medication for which frequent delivery is relied upon during normal times.

Studies show that during extreme weather fiasco, targeted government investment in at-risk segments of society has greater impact than general investment in population.

Because of mosque networks in Pakistan, we do not need to build special heat shelters. Philanthropic organizations can contribute to instituting better heating in mosques and government can mandate the latter to shelter at-risk segments of population in their vicinity during freeze fiasco.

Awkaaf can collaborate with private philanthropy to make a plan of action for investing in at-risk segments of population during freeze fiasco, arranging food, shelter and special clothing for them.

At-risk segments of society such as manual workers are essential derivers of economic activity. A safety plan for them has immense economic value for a city.

—The writer is CEO at Pakistan’s People Led Disaster Management, focused on disaster risk reduction and rural poverty alleviation.