The extraordinary heavy rains in Lahore last week are a grim reminder for the government, policy-makers and people of Pakistan that they should brace up for the growing challenge of climate change.
At least 15 people were killed in the record-breaking rains which not only crippled the life, but caused damage to the infrastructure of the country’s undoubtedly most developed city.
It also exposed the ill-preparedness of our civic bodies and raised doubts whether they would be able to cope with a big calamity.
A country which has witnessed one of the major earthquakes of the world in recent history and several floods in less than a decade, should have built up effective disaster management bodies which could mobilise their resources within no time to cope with any major emergency.
Incidentally, the flooding in Lahore took place at a politically sensitive time when the country was just weeks away from having a general election which are taking place in a highly charged atmosphere.
It provided an opportunity to the rivals of the Pakistan Muslim League, which has been running Punjab for the past consecutive years, to capitalise on public anger over devastation.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) main rival Imran Khan wasted no time to visit flooded Lahore lambasting former provincial chief minister and current head of the party Shahbaz Sharif. He blamed Sharif for ignoring real issues of the city and instead investing heavily on the big ticket projects.
The younger Sharif, in turn, blamed the caretaker government for failing to promptly respond to the emergency situation and not taking requisite measures to minimise the losses. But, it is unfortunate, that in the heat of political rivalry no one gave a serious thought to what caused the flooding and how this situation can be dealt with in future.
After devastating floods in 2009 and later, the country should have formulated policy to minimise the devastation caused by floods and mechanism to stop the waste of this precious resource by building reservoirs, but unfortunately such important issues became victims of politicking.
Building of dams and water reservoirs is the need of the hour but for the past several decades no tangible step could be taken because of the non-serious attitude of our ruling elite.
Recently, a campaign has been launched on the social media for the construction of new dams in view of growing threat of water shortages in the country in coming years.
This issue is definitely a political issue which needs to be handled by the government but all efforts should be made that the issue does not get politicised to the extent that nothing gets done to achieve this objective.
We need to learn a lesson from India which has been building new dams in the country as well as controversial dams in held Kashmir to meet its water shortages. Sadly, the debate mostly degenerates into blame games.
In fact, Pakistan has been enduring major issues relating to climate change for the past several years but none of the governments gave any serious consideration to formulating a comprehensive policy to cope with these challenges.
A couple of years back, Peshawar was hit by a sudden cloud burst which in a span of less than an hour resulted in the loss of many lives and considerable damage to infrastructure.
Ironically, the weather aberration took place at the time when daily weather report of the Meteorological Department was being sent to the government agencies predicted dry weather for the district in the next 24 hours.
Then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the weather report and had ordered an inquiry, however, what actions were taken on the inquiry report remain unknown.
Similarly, the Punjab province has been witnessing a severe smog phenomenon for the past several years. But neither central nor provincial authorities took any tangible measures to deal with this phenomenon that resulted in several road accidents.
It is not yet determined whether the recent incessant rains were the result of a one-time cloud burst or it was part of a consistent pattern of heavy rains which have been witnessed in and around Lahore every year.
Lahore was flooded in the monsoon rains in 2016 too but the flooding was not as severe as it was this year.
It is time for the Pakistani lawmakers, policy makers, political parties and governments to take the climate change issue very seriously and frame policies to tackle it effectively.
One must appreciate the previous Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s initiative of tree plantation and measures to control deforestation and tree-cutting in order to cope with environment-related challenges. But it needs a national policy to deal with this situation as almost every part of the country is affected by environment and climate related issues.
The national policy must stress on launching a robust public campaign to create awareness among the people about their contribution to deal with such situations.
The flooding in Lahore is a stark reminder for our civic bodies to overhaul the crippling drainage and sewage systems of major cities which get choked at the time of flooding. The general public should also be told that they too have a role to get these systems running in times of heavy rains and flooding.
Excessive use of polythene bags in our routine life and their improper disposal is one of the main reasons behind the choking of the drainage and sewage system.
The government should either ban the use of such bags or make proper arrangements for their disposal to ensure working of drainage systems in the big cities.
Moreover, an effective campaign should be launched on the media to make people realise the importance of a hygienic way of living whereby they should keep their neighbourhood clean to avoid complications and problems while dealing with an emergency situation like flood.
But such campaigns would only produce results if climate-related issues figure high on their priority list.
Though a climate change ministry was set up several years ago, successive governments have failed to utilise it in a proper manner to enable it to play its role effectively.
This ministry needs a professional and committed team leader who is well versed with the issue so that he could lead his team in a meaningful manner.
If government did not rise to the occasion and failed to do proper planning to deal with the climate related matters, Pakistan could face major weather-related challenges in the times to come.
The political parties should also desist from political point-scoring on this serious issue and come up with feasible and practical suggestions to handle these matters.
The writer is a journalist base in Islamabad