People who picked up the newspapers yesterday were met with the odd headline of a new “operation” in Peshawar. The Water and Sanitation Services Peshawar (WSSP) declared war against rats and killed 550 rodents in various areas of the city. The unsavoury news item them became fodder for political parties, where keyboard warriors on Twitter and other social media painted it as another contest won by the PML-M who was fighting terrorism while PTI in KP was fighting rodents.

Though the story seemed out of place and somewhat funny amid news of Indian spies and unsafe nukes, the greater point has been missed.

With our burgeoning population, unpredictable climate and lacklustre mechanism for waste disposal, large cities like Peshawar are the perfect breeding ground for pests and disease. That the issue was so big that it made headlines should be a wakeup call for local administrators and municipal committees that we are on the verge of ecological disaster.

In this context the flash floods in KP and FATA compound these problems of unsafe water and sanitation. 45 people have lost their lives in these floods, and many more will suffer from destroyed infrastructure and water borne illnesses.

These are very real changes that are happening in our ecology that we have no capacity to address or deal with. Deltas in the Karachi area are running dry, and Karachi is the grip of a permanent water shortage. Meanwhile in the north flash floods have become an annual phenomenon, even as our rivers dry up.

Peshawar’s rodents may seem like a petty problem, but this is how diseases mutate and evolve through pests, and we are unprepared. Dengue, Ebola, and the Zika virus are just some recent demons that have plagued the world and clean water and sanitation is the key.