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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Floods and summer ...

Monsoons have come to India and Pakistan for at least the last twelve thousand years in varying intensities year on year. Some of the records of white colonials and traders record these events over the last several centuries and some of them describe massive downpours that flush out the rivers and carve new channels. What has certainly changed in the last century is the sheer numbers now living in the flood plains and along the river ravines. Perhaps we should not then be surprised when we get an exceptional monsoon season, that so many people die and so much property is destroyed.

The flooding along the River Nei├če which forms part of the border between Poland, Czech Republic and Germany isn't down to a monsoon, though the downpours that triggered it would make a monsoon proud. Part of the problem here is the bursting of a dam during the storm. This released a massive wave of water, in some places such as the city of Goerlitz, the water rose 4 metres in 3 hours and overwhelmed efforts to contain it. At least here the people are not as densely packed as in Pakistan, but there have still been six deaths and there has been damage to buildings which have survived previous floods. One of these is a monastery only recently restored after almost sixty years of neglect under the communists. Priceless artwork and magnificent buildings, lovingly restored and only recently rehung, have now to be cleaned and restored again because though there were flood defences, these were overwhelmed.

Of course, heritage buildings and artworks damaged or destroyed is not really comparable with the loss of life and the loss of homes, livelihoods and possessions on the scale we have seen and are seeing in Pakistan. The difference here is the fact that the flooding in Germany can be blamed n a "Hundred year flood" and the failure of the dam. In Pakistan it lies at the door of massive overpopulation, total lack of planning to protect or at least reduce the numbers of people exposed because they live in the flood plain of the Indus or its tributaries.

We can all wring our hands and blame "Global Warming," or "Climate Change" but it comes down to if you have over population, if you strip the vegetation which anchors the soil, if you then pave or roof huge areas and you place thousands of people in a flood plain - you've just created the ideal conditions for catastrophe.

The monsoon is an annual event, the last four or five have been mild ones, now we are entering a cycle of heavy ones again - all dictated by surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean - so we should expect to see something being done to reduce the risk to the Pakistani population by at least reducing the numbers living in flood plains.

But I won't hold my breath.

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