“My dream was flooded before it could be fulfilled,” lamented 65-year-old Anwar Khan Afridi. His lifelong aspiration was to build his own house, for which he diligently saved money through various means over the years. He had already constructed a part of the house, spending 12 lakhs in the process. However, on the morning of July 15, a devastating flash flood swept through Tehsil Landikotal in Khyber tribal district, wiping away their newly built home.
The flash flood wreaked havoc in several villages, including Nikikhel village, where Anwar Khan resided. Tragically, the flood claimed the lives of two children in the nearby Shalman and Ali Masjid areas.
Presently, Anwar Khan lives with his wife and 10 children in a shared house with his brother. During the division of property, the house went to his elder brother, leaving him with the need to construct a new house some distance away, along the banks of a rain drain.
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“Our shared house has only four rooms, and we are a total of 29 people living here. Two of my sons are also married. It has become almost impossible for us to continue living in this cramped space,” expressed Anwar Khan. “I took a loan of 10 lakh rupees to build the house, and after completing the boundary wall, I was very excited to gradually add two or three rooms to it. However, fate and the will of Allah have turned out differently.”
Similarly, the tale of Kaleemullah Shinwari from Perokhel, a few kilometers away from Nikikhel, shares a parallel fate with Anwar Khan’s experience. At 38 years old, Kaleemullah works as a taxi driver, supporting his nine children. The morning of July 15 shook their lives to the core. “Water from the adjacent rain drain inundated our house and caused the boundary wall to collapse. I rushed to the children and managed to get them out of the room just in time. Within minutes, the room collapsed,” he recounted.
Kaleemullah expressed gratitude that he and his children were safe when the house collapsed, but he remains deeply concerned about rebuilding his home. He shared that he had never witnessed such heavy rainfall in his life. The rain was so intense that it carried a significant amount of debris from the hill in front, resulting in the pond at the foot of the hill overflowing and water inundating their houses as the bank broke.
The flood also wreaked havoc on many other houses in Perokhel. Kaleemullah noted that this was the first flood he could recall in this storm drain, but there are fears that it may recur, as people believe that once water passes through an area, there is a likelihood of it happening again.
According to PDMA (Provincial Disaster Management Authority), the flash flood on July 15 in Landikotal damaged 4 houses and a school building, but local sources indicate that more than 50 houses collapsed due to the flood. Additionally, the disaster caused severe damage to infrastructure, including up to 10 link roads and dozens of bridges.
Most of the structures destroyed in the flood, including the houses of Anwar Khan and Kaleemullah, were situated near rivers and storm drains. Pakistan has been grappling with the impacts of climate change for several years, witnessing floods, melting glaciers, erratic and destructive rainfall, droughts, and heat waves. These effects not only claim many lives each year but also cause extensive damage to the economy.
As per the government of Pakistan’s estimation, the country incurred losses of nearly 30 billion dollars due to last year’s devastating floods alone. This year, once again, many districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab are facing the challenges of flooding.
Experts assert that climate change affects nearly all countries worldwide, but it disproportionately impacts less developed nations like Pakistan. These countries often face the brunt of climate-related challenges due to factors such as poverty, weak economy, inadequate infrastructure, lack of government policy implementation, and limited public awareness about climate change.
Maroof Afridi, a renowned disaster management scholar focusing on better planning during natural and man-made disasters, emphasizes that poor and unplanned settlements exacerbate the impact of all-natural calamities, including earthquakes, floods, and storms. The recent floods in Landikotal serve as an example of this situation.
He points out that while individuals may not be at fault for their houses being swept away by floods, both the people and the government bear responsibility for constructing buildings within the boundaries of rivers and rain drains. Maroof Afridi recommends that those constructing houses and markets near water bodies should elevate them at least 5 feet above ground level and seek assistance from engineers to ensure their resilience against disasters.
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According to the disaster management expert, people often disregard these precautions, and the government either lacks clear policies or fails to implement them effectively. While disasters may be acts of God, the destruction caused by them is partly attributable to human actions.
Siffat Khan, who faces physical disability in both legs, has experienced the repercussions of such mistakes and shortcomings firsthand. Siffat’s friends had generously supported him in establishing an electrical equipment shop to sustain himself financially. However, the floods on July 15 have once again put him in financial distress.
His shop is located on the roadside in Sultan Khel, where Khyber’s rain drain intersects with the Pak-Afghan highway. Siffat laments that had there been a bridge in that location, diverting water away from the road, or if his shop had been on the upper level rather than the basement, he might have been spared from this ordeal.
However, Siffat shares that renting the upper portion is costly, and he lacks the financial capacity to afford it.
Potential for Constructing Check Dams in Landikotal
Floods have been a recurring issue in various areas of the Khyber district, including Landikotal. The recent flood in Landikotal is considered the second major flood after the one in 2007, with the current flood level reaching up to 8 feet, whereas the 2007 flood had a level of approximately 15 feet, as claimed by Maroof Afridi.
The people of Landikotal, particularly social workers and journalists, have been advocating for the construction of check dams on the storm drains for several years. Initially, their campaign was driven by the gradual depletion of underground water levels in the area. However, the recent flood has given added impetus to their efforts as they believe that check dams not only aid in replenishing groundwater levels but also serve as a means of flood prevention.
Maroof Afridi, an expert in disaster management, supports these views and highlights that approximately 80% of Landikotal’s area comprises mountains with numerous rain drains. Constructing check dams with a depth of seven to eight feet in strategic locations within these mountains would effectively break the force of floodwaters. Moreover, this water could be harnessed for beneficial purposes instead of letting it flow into rivers. The implementation of these check dams is expected to address the issue of water scarcity in the region, leading to the swift restoration of groundwater levels.