A virtual talk held by Northwestern University in Qatar discussed the reasons behind Khartoum and Karachi’s flooding crisis and the impact it has had on their people
Sudan and Pakistan have recently witnessed one of the worst flooding disasters in almost a century due to torrential monsoon rains, leaving cities and people paralyzed amidst poor government response and lack of disaster mitigation planning.
Following the devastating events in Khartoum and Karachi, Northwestern University in Qatar – a Qatar Foundation partner university – organized a webinar titled The Floods in Pakistan and Sudan: Natural or Manmade Disasters?, to discuss and identify the main causes which worsened the effects of natural disasters; the role of media in amplifying the real situation on the ground in these distressed cities; and how both countries should build strategies to better anticipate disasters and devise appropriate disaster recovery plans.
Disaster historians who have studied the role and place of nature in human life, believe that nature and culture are inseparable, and they both shape one another, according to Anto Mohsin, Assistant Professor in Residence in the Liberal Arts Program at Northwestern Qatar. He shared his thoughts on whether the floods are purely an act of nature or manmade.
Decisions to build towns in disaster-prone areas, construct buildings that cannot withstand earthquakes or not having effective early warning systems and evaluation routes can all worsen the effects of these disasters
“Although humans don’t directly cause tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, monsoons, and earthquakes, their decisions to build towns in disaster-prone areas, construct buildings that cannot withstand earthquakes or not having effective early warning systems and evaluation routes can all worsen the effects of these disasters,” he said.
Mohsin also highlighted that misappropriating or misusing disaster funds, or a poor recovery effort, can contribute to further aggravating the damage caused by a disaster.
Abdullah Gamil, a Northwestern Qatar alumnus from Sudan, attributed the calamity – which has displaced 500,000 people and destroyed more than 100,000 homes – to “human agency”, saying: “Floods in Sudan happen every year; however, this time around it was much worse.
There is a severe lack of knowledge about the resources that could deal with these floods in Sudan, especially with regard to infrastructure
“There is a severe lack of knowledge about the resources that could deal with these floods in Sudan, especially with regard to infrastructure. We also have to point to the fact that global warming is tied directly with the increase of natural disasters around the world.”
Gamil spoke about the rebuilding process and the role of the media in effectively supporting crisis recovery. “We need to be mindful about the most poor and marginalized communities that are on the outskirts of Sudan, who are already struggling and are massively affected by the floods,” he said.
“There is a viral hashtag on social media, specifically used on Twitter, called #من قلبي سلام للخرطوم, which means, ‘from my heart, I send peace to Al Khartoum’, and we can see a lot of the attention, aid, and resources channeled directly to Al Khartoum. And while the disaster didn’t hit the capital alone, there are 16 other states which are suffering far more damage than the capital city. Many inaccurate images have also been shared on various media platforms, and have gone viral internationally. These images are either from India or Haiti – none from Sudan – and have become posters for all of Sudan’s flood-related news.
It is heart-wrenching to see a city with such great potential drown
“Although it’s heartwarming to see this kind of support internationally, you can see, on the other hand, the lack of fact-checking of real news, and it’s something we need to address in the future.”
Another panelist, Zeest Marrium, a Northwestern Qatar student from Pakistan who is currently at home in Pakistan, shared her personal experience and how she was affected by the urban flooding in Karachi. “This didn’t catch us by surprise,” she explained. “Karachi’s inability to deal with rain in the monsoon season isn’t new; every year the damage is substantial. However, this year is like never before. 90 people died and hundreds became homeless. That’s besides the enormous damages to businesses.”
It is an issue that has been 30-40 years in the making, according to Marrium. “Neglect of a disaster management plan in an urban city such as Karachi is the main reason behind the city’s crisis,” she said. “It is heart-wrenching to see a city with such great potential drown, and so little has been done by the government to fix the situation.
“What happened makes me wonder if this flood came about as a natural disaster or was it the inevitable consequence of human decisions. Climatic conditions are obviously deteriorating; and if the sustainable growth of the city remains the least political priority, and if we don’t put systems to combat the effects of natural disasters in place, such disasters will only keep hitting us harder.”