Pains in the rain drains

when it rains in Islamabad, many thoroughfares become submerged and fears of urban flooding take hold. These problems were created when the city choked its natural drains that were the hallmark of the Potohar region. The natural drains were ruined by unchecked construction activity and lack of a vision for waste management.

June 22 was supposed to be the hottest day of the year, but due to climate change the temperature only hit 30 degrees Celsius with an overcast sky. The city had 25 millimetres of rainfall on Tuesday alone, concluding an entire week of rainy weather.

For the months of July and August, the Met Office has predicted monsoon rains, sending the city managers into an overdrive of protective measures.

Rainy weather brings concern for Mohsin Malik and his wife, and joy to his children. Their house stands right on the bank of a fortified rain drain in a big housing society near the old airport.

“My children enjoy the sound of the water flowing in the drain. But I am concerned. Due to new construction off the walls of our housing society, the width of the drain is narrowing. If this trend continues, it may become choked, submerging the surrounding area,” Malik tells The News on Sunday.

In three nearby housing societies, the managers have built lakes over rain drains for aesthetic purposes. The closer one gets to Zero Point, the more one realises that the rain drains have vanished systematically, replaced by houses and shopping malls.

As a result, the Islamabad Expressway gets submerged from Karal Chowk to Dhok Kala Khan when it rains. This is the only signal-free thoroughfare that takes the brunt of heavy traffic flowing from the Punjab through Faizabad to KP.

The Expressway is flanked by heavily encroached upon green belts with a network of rain drains. In an ideal situation, rainwater should flow freely in its natural courses and seep into the land. But since marriage halls, shopping centres and fuel stations have crept up on both sides of the road, waterways are now clogged.

In three nearby housing societies, the managers have built lakes over rain drains for aesthetic purposes. The closer one gets to Zero Point, the more one realises that the rain drains have vanished systematically, replaced by houses and shopping malls.

According to Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat, the outgoing deputy commissioner of the federal capital, katchi abadis in upscale areas of E and F sectors have been secured by court orders. “Rain drains in those areas have been polluted and encroached upon and altered. If the Capital Development Authority is not allowed to clean those areas, it raises questions regarding actions in other parts of the city,” he says.

“It is illegal to alter, narrow down or pollute drains but then special permissions can be granted to cover them, ‘’ explains Shafqaat. “The main issue is climate change. We now have two months of rain almost every year,” he concludes.

Sardar Khan Zimri, deputy director general for water management at the CDA, is a man known for new initiatives. He tells The News on Sunday that his department has set up 50 recharge wells to preserve rain water. “This is not a new idea. We have dug ways for the rain water to get through gravel and sand before merging with the water table. Hence, gradually but definitely, this rain water will stabilize the water table in the federal capital. One hundred such wells are to be installed in the days to come,” he says.

“No one is allowed to install a pump with the ability to extract water beyond 400 feet below the ground. If we succeed in preserving rainwater, we will be able to address the water shortage as well,” says Zimri.

In anticipation of the monsoon season, flood marks have been made at rain drains and nullahs at katchi abadis. Teams of district administration and the CDA have been deployed at vulnerable places for quick response to flooding.

Deputy Commissioner Irfan Memon is leading a drive to clean the rain drains of the city. Memon tells The News on Sunday that mixing sewerage with rain drains is a problem that is not limited to Islamabad. “In rural areas, people do not leave their houses and cattle during rain and floods. But in urban areas, water enters the basement of houses and the situation worsens. We are trying to protect people in such situations,” he explains.

Asif Mehmood, a businessman, says that when he built his house along a rain drain, the administrator of the housing society told him that it will be covered and there is no need to worry. “Twelve years on it is still open, despite my protests,” he laments.

Azhar Jatoi, a journalist living in Media Town, says that shopping malls have been built on the Soan River in posh societies surrounding his area. “People buy plots and when it comes to building a house, they discover that they are building on a rain drain and they have to have deep foundations. Drain land is openly occupied and no government body has taken action against it,” he claims.

Amer Ahmed Ali, the chief commissioner of the Islamabad Capital Territory, says that rain harvesting is a good idea. With regard to the citywide response, he says, “A separate helpline, 1819, has been set up for rescue in case of urban flooding but unprecedented rains could create unforeseen challenges. Our teams are out with a motto to do their best. New water lines are being installed and sewerage lines maintained but they need funding to stay that way.”

Unmoved by these developments, Mohsin Malik’s children fly paper planes and make paper boats, enjoying the sounds of water in the drain flowing next to their house.


The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad.  Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ   Email: Hassan.shehzad@iiui.edu.pk

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