The floating cities

By: Sultan ul Arifeen

A woman sleeping peacefully with her son, in the outskirts of the capital city of Pakistan, became a victim of unchecked urbanization and faulty city planning. The ravaging urban flooding was shot flowing the properties of several individuals along its channel in the sector E-11, in Islamabad. Despite the repetition of the same story every year, no difference in policy is seemed to have advanced. Who is to be blamed for this diabolic loop, insnaring the people year after year?

The phenomenon of urban flooding is defined by Federal Emergency Management Agency, of the United States as, “the inundation of property in a built environment, particularly in more densely populated areas, caused by rain falling on increased amounts of impervious surfaces and overwhelming the capacity of drainage systems.”

There are three take-aways from the aforementioned definition. To start with, urban flooding is the phenomenon caused primarily by rain; second, it is usually resulted in the regions with impervious surfaces; and finally, the drainage capacity is overwhelmed by the rainwater.

There are multiple humanoid factors which may result in the flooding as such, on top of which, rapid urbanization and increasing population, insufficient drainage infrastructure, and mismanagement of the land are included.

Previously, the cities were erected by planned actions, taking account of land management and its requisites. The walled cities were architectural genius, discerning every aspect of life. This was followed by British organized cities, who specifically emphasized to develop municipal systems and urban infrastructure, for answering the growing needs of times. They refrained from building any project on the drainage nullahs, maintaining a strict policy for sustaining the cities for decades to come. The cities, thus built, were largely free from any major calamity caused by rain-water. In addition, the sewerage was held separate from drainage system, with their maintenance and performance check at regular intervals, making the systems more reliable.

This practice was followed briefly, after the independence. However, its failure became imperative in the light of growing administrative incompetency. Since, the practices of cleaning and maintenance could not be espoused, the standard of city and town planning kept deteriorating. This was furthered by the continued administrative experiments in the development of municipal system, leaving no local authority to deal with growing problems faced by the cities and its population.

The rise of housing societies, converting cultivated and drainage land into attractive colonies for the population at an economic range, caught eyes of several individuals. They flocked in groups to populate those colonies built on the drainage nullahs and cultivated lands to allegedly enhance their living standards. Moreover, several major development projects were initiated at the peripheral regions, extending the borders of the cities. This replacement of rational planning with such multi-million projects for commercial gains has caused havoc in both urban infrastructure and drainage systems.

This dilemma is multiplied as the several drainage nullahs are now being utilized for the purpose of waste recycling enterprise. Sewerage and waste material collected from within the city is regularly thrown into the nullahs, where usable or recyclable items are separated from the insignificant material. A large proportion of this waste is settled inside the nullah thus impeding the water flow and the space for drainage of excessive rainwater in case of flooding. This problem is being faced by almost all cities of Pakistan, where there is no sustainable system for waste management.

With changes in the climate, these unpredicted patterns in the weather are no surprise. Pakistan is ranked amongst the worst countries to be affected by this climate change. To counter this problem, an evidence-based policy is required. There is a dire need to recalibrate urban boundaries along the lines of existing drainage systems. The effective use and management of land is the need of hour, in order to counter such potential threats. The maintenance and regular cleaning of the drainage channels should be done, together with construction of more drainage channels along the roadside to evacuate water off the roads, as soon as possible. Solid waste material must not be dumped into nullahs and drainage channels, and sewerage should be separated from the drainage systems. Legislation should be held at the top level to enact effective environmental laws and to ensure their implementation. And finally, with climate change ministry finally working in our country, the problem of urban flooding must be discussed as primary topic for policy making under its auspices. With these considerations, the system may start budging towards a proper direction, else the loop would start engulfing all in its roll.

The author is a student of Political Science. He can be reached at [email protected]