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Tragedies beyond boundaries

In the coastal city of Derna, Libya, more than ten thousand people have perished as a hurricane intensity storm Daniel struck the area in the early hours of the day when most of the residents were sleeping. The storm hit two dams upstream from Derna which burst under the pressure of torrential rains from the storm. These dams had been built to protect the port city of 100,000 people after it was hit by significant flooding in the mid-20th century. Over the years these dams have been victims of neglect as the country was plunged into civil war after the ousting of its once popular leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Cracks in the dams were known since 1998. These dams were not the only piece of infrastructure that faced neglect. Most of the infrastructure in the country has fallen into ruins due to the fact that the country is currently ruled by two rival administrations that have battled for power since Gaddafi’s ousting. A familiar story in many developing countries where the inefficiency of people in power has tragic consequences for the people at large.

The devastating storm that caught the residents of Derna by surprise has still more potential for damage. With tens of thousands of people displaced, aid organizations have warned of the risks posed by leftover landmines and other unexploded ordnance, freely used in the civil war some of which the UN said has been shifted by floodwaters into areas previously declared clear. Not only the standing infrastructure is risky and weakened but also carries the risk of explosives under the rubble. This however is not the end of the story. The devastation in Derna had other contributing factors.The banks of a dried riverbed running through the city centre had been heavily built on, and last week’s torrent swept everything before it as it rushed towards the Mediterranean. Building on riverbeds and storm drains is also a favorite in our own city Karachi. Many storm drains are clogged and covered by shops and even residential buildings posing great threat to the residents. This also contributes to flooding and sometimes it is difficult to drain rain water because of these illegal constructions. Most of the drains are also clogged as nearby residents themselves throw their garbage in them.You can’t really blame the residents for this as there is no organized arrangement to collect garbage from door to door as in other countries. In western countries garbage collection has been so streamlined that now garbage is collected in a very scientific manner with different categories of waste collected in different containers and taken to different destinations for disposal.

This year there were a lot of preparations for the coming monsoon that never came but just before the season in June this year we were warned of the approaching Tropical Cyclone Biparjoy. I don’t think that I am wrong when I say that this was the closest Karachi and a Cyclone came face to face. At the very last moment the cyclone turned course and everybody heaved a sigh of relief. A few strong gusts of wind did however rattle Karachi and especially the areas near the sea reminding us that while we may ignore it but real danger in the form of cyclones lurks around the city each year and we seem ill prepared to face it if God forbids it decides to visit our shores.

The story of Libya is a tragedy whose dimensions are so horrifying that it depresses you to even think about it. A witness to the tragic events described the moments before the storm. It was nearly 3 or 4 in the morning when the residents found out that the storm is about to strike. Imagine thousands of families receiving this information at that time of the night and helpless to do anything about it. Most of the people must have calmed their families assuring them that they will ride out the storm. No one could have imagined the ferocity of the storm or the surge of water coming from broken dams the result of utter neglect by those in power.

The Libyan tragedy is a wakeup call for those cities near the sea threatened frequently by cyclones. Climate change has changed the entire scenario and humanity’s skills at prediction of weather events have seriously declined. Let us all put our house in order or be ready to face tragedies beyond boundaries.

Zia Ul Islam Zuberi, "Tragedies beyond boundaries," Business recorder. 2023-09-23.
Keywords: Political sciences , Torrential rains , Civil war , Tragic consequences , Muammar Gaddafi , Pakistan , Libya , UN

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