Murree tragedy- will we learn the necessary lessons?

 Pakistan need comprehensive tourism policy to promote tourism but also the safety and protection of tourists and to protect the environment and natural beauty of tourist areas 

Our history shows that we hardly learn any lesson from our past mistakes and tragedies. We express our anger, sorrow and pain after our tragedy but then forget everything about it. When we refuse to learn from our own mistakes then we bound to repeat them.

The death of more than 24 people including 10 children in Murree on last weakened was a tragedy. All these people went to Murree to enjoy snowfall and spending some happy time with friends and families. But their enjoyment was turned into tragedy. The question is whether we will learn the necessary lessons from this tragedy to avoid it in the future.

Will the authorities learn the lessons from this tragedy and make necessary arrangements and take measures to stop such tragedies happening again.

The tragedy could have easily been avoided if the authorities had taken a less cavalier approach towards the bad weather conditions and issued timely warnings to tourists. For almost all of the past week, heavy rains have lashed Islamabad and Rawalpindi while Murree and nearby hill stations in the Galiyat area have received intermittent but heavy snowfall.

The administration could have ensured that its emergency services evacuate the occupants of these cars. This did not happen. Despite the snowstorm, the administration is equipped to handle such situations and instead of sitting idle, it should have immediately sprung into action. This they did not do. Despite the fact that they were aware of the dangers people were faced with.

It is deeply unfortunate that it takes such a massive loss of life for the authorities to realise the significance of vigilance and timely action, the bare minimum to be expected from the government. Regulating the inflow of tourists to hill stations in light of existing infrastructure is imperative to avoid further tragedies like this.

Why were none of the entities responsible – district administration, interior ministry, NDMA, PDMA, and provincial governments – taking this seriously? Why is it that those responsible wake up to the task so late and do so little before such tragedies strike? There should have been extra deployment of rescue teams in the areas where heavy snowfall was forecast.

 There should have been helicopters and snowmobiles ready to pick the stranded people – but there was nothing for the stranded who eventually died in their cars, possibly hoping right till the end that some help would come their way.

 Tourists do go up in the hills to enjoy the snowfall; it’s on the concerned authorities to do at least two things: one, control the flow of tourists; and two, make arrangements to clear the road with all machinery at their disposal to remove snow and keep the traffic moving.

The Punjab government has announced to make Murree as separate district and to establish new authority to look after the tourists. These administrative measures might be good but more needs to be done to drastically improve the preparedness of the local authorities.

Murree and surrounding areas are favourite tourists’ destinations for hundreds of thousands of tourists across the country. Local businesses and local economy earns billions of rupees every year from tourists. But little is spending on to improve the facilities and infrastructure in these areas.   

The government both the federal and provincial needs to prepare a comprehensive tourism policy based on three pillars; environment protection, infrastructure development and protection of tourists. The safety and comfort of tourists must be the focus of this policy.

The government needs to put strict regulation on construction of hotels and rest houses in tourist areas. Promotion of tourism doesn’t mean to destroy the natural beauty and environment of these beautiful areas. We have already destroyed the most of the natural beauty of Murree and instead construct the jungle of concrete.

A well equipped civilian rescue and emergency service is need of the hour. The government should provide modern machines and technology to this civilian emergency service based on local people. They must be trained and fully equipped to protect tourists in any emergency.

The government needs to ensure that no businessman including the owners of hotels, restaurants, shops and transporters try to fleece the tourists in any emergency situation. Strict regulations needed to be applied on rents of hotel rooms and lodges. The prices of food, vegetables, cooked meals and rents of hotels need to be strictly monitored and controlled.  

Radical reforms needed to be introduced in the tourism department. Instead of traditional bureaucratic approach, decisions and setup, tourism department should be revamped on modern lines to genuinely promote the tourism and to guide the domestic tourists. The tourism department’s website and social media accounts must be updated regularly and provide update weather reports and travel guidelines.    

No inquiry can determine greed and inhumanity. But this we saw in Murree over the weekend. To be fair, this is not the first time. In the past as well, we have seen how the people of this area have fleeced and harassed tourists time and again. In the past as well, when thieving Murree shopkeepers attacked innocent visitors there were calls for a boycott of this hill resort.

Over the years we continue to see the proliferation of cheaply designed and structurally weak hotels and restaurants in the hill stations. There is no authority that checks the activities of such ventures — not a surprise given that most of them is owned by the high and mighty of Punjab and K-P. How can genuine tourism grow in such circumstances?

                                                              Rukhsana Manzoor Deputy Editor

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