Islamabad, 11th January 2022: Parliamentary Leader of the PPP in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman, discussing the tragedy in Murree, said, “This extremely tragic and heart-breaking incident took the lives of 23 innocent people, including 9 children. Hundreds of people were stuck in their cars on Murree hill station, grappling with a severe snowstorm and sub-zero temperatures. The horrifying 12 dark hours of being stuck on the hill, took the lives of entire families and the shocking reality is that this incident was completely preventable if the same government that was peddling tourism within the city, had taken safety measures that are integral to every tourist destination in the world. Despite warnings from the Met office, the authorities, including the PDMA, NDMA and the local administration chose to take no actions and too many people perished in those severe weather conditions.”
She continued on to say, “The government’s abdication of responsibility is breaching new limits. The five-member committee to investigate this incident is unacceptable. In times of such catastrophic climate disasters, an independent investigation is required for findings that get past the criminal negligence by the authorities and recommendations for future safety procedures and enforcement frameworks. This investigation is being specifically sought by the people of Murree. According to the Met office, Murree had received 17 inches of snow and the government that been informed about this dangerous storm, appropriate planning and safety procedures should have been put in place, but authorities in Islamabad failed to issue traffic appropriate warnings, or enforce road closures or even have rescue teams on alerts. Instead, the NDMA, PDMA, interior ministry and provincial government failed to demonstrate concern or take action to prevent chaos in one of the most visited tourism sites in Pakistan.”
“In the face of such a tragedy, how can the government blame the people and make a public statement saying that they should have checked the weather. Do they not know it is the government’s responsibility to provide its citizens with safety and protection. The same government that is engaging in shameful and reprehensible victim-blaming today, was bragging about the 1 lakh tourists in Murree just a few days prior via a later-deleted tweet. This was not the first time it had snowed in Murree and despite knowing the numbers of people going into the city, no safety procedures were enacted. This incident needs to be a harsh wake-up call for the government that they cannot boost tourism without placing infrastructure to ensure the safety of the tourists as well as the local community,” said the Senator.
Regarding the investigation into this incident, she said, “We must learn from our mistakes and minimise casualties resulting from extreme weather events in the future which will only increase in frequency due to climate change. It must be reiterated that a transparent and independent investigation is the need of the hour. Reporting on the Murree incident needs to be timely, handled with transparency, be made available to the public and is not allowed to fade into obscurity but becomes an extremely unfortunate but vital learning experience for the authorities.”
“The Murree Highway is the responsibility of the National Highways Authority, what role did they play to prevent this disaster from happening? Did the Minister of Communications, Federal Secretary Communications or Chairman NHA call for a meeting for the snowstorm? What steps have been taken by the Motorway Police and NHA to facilitate tourists and ensure their safety? The inquiry ordered by the Prime Minister must also investigate who did what before the Murree tragedy and during these crucial 12 hours. What role did the PDMA and NDMA play during and in the aftermath of this crisis? Why were they not made accountable? It is the job of the provincial secretaries of highways and local government to handle the snowfall situation in Murree and yet they also failed to implement any safety provisions. The Intelligence Bureau and the Special Branch are considered the eyes and ears of the government. Do they perform any public service functions at all? Did the Intelligence Bureau and the Special Branch report to the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister that the arrangements of the administration and departments are incomplete?” inquired the Senator.
“Where were the all-taxpayer agencies that should have been present and alert the moment the Met office started ringing alarm bells? Is this why we pay taxes so that the lives of our brothers and sisters are toyed with? In a city like Murree where a snowstorm comes every single year, why were there no snowplows? Where were the helicopters that could have saved so many lives? Those 12 hours where men, women and children were stuck in cars, in freezing conditions or silently and unknowingly being exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning, the government was asleep. This government refused to heed the warning of the Met, but they must heed my warning today that climate change is looming upon and us. The 17 inches of snow last week will double in the coming years; if the government refuses to take effective action to build infrastructure for the adaptation to our changing climate, then the number of lives lost will also double. A billion-tree tsunami is not “climate adaptation” when scores of people are dying every year.”
She concluded by saying “The government needs to stop playing games with people’s lives. Victim blaming just hours after a tragedy is reprehensible and the government must apologise to the families of the victims and the people of this country.”