INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT
The destruction caused by the massive flooding from Gilgit-Chitral to Thatta is a tale of destruction wreaked by nature, misery, incompetence and massive corruption. In most places, devastation was avoidable had the water managers of Pakistan not tinkered with nature in exchange for ill gotten wealth, insensitivity to people’s welfare and political mileage.
As I wrote in ‘Drowned in Rivers with no Water’, 70% of Pakistan’s external debt has been consumed in the Water Management Sector with 60% of it going away in incompetent feasibility studies by foreign experts. The net result is that either there is no water or too much of it. Drainage, flood protection bunds, dredging and lining of canal schemes designed to control the fury of rivers have all failed because of shady and ghost civil works. Dredging though an annual budgetary feature was never implemented in letter and spirit neither the height of bunds and shoring through stone and concrete works ever carried out on the supposedly completed projects.
Despite month long floods, administrative reactions in lower reaches of Indus are still slow, inefficient and malafide. The biggest manifestation of this inefficiency, incompetence and vested management is the new course of River Indus to the north. The inundation of the entire productive and fertile plains of Southern Balochistan will neither seep nor have an exit. As a result, lakes will be created on the southern slopes of the Kirthar range that shall hang like a daemon on the towns of Shadadkot, Qambar etc. The flood will continue to flow into this area till the fatal bunds breached on the northern side of Indus are not plugged or the flood waters do not run out.
River Indus and its tributaries have always had a history of fury obliterating civilizations and creating new ones. The lowest depressions of this massive river system still lie in South Eastern Pakistan from Bahawalnagar to Nagar Parkar. This contour of the land also indicates the old course of the lost Nara River called the great Nara depression itself created by the natural forces of earthquakes, tsunamis and flooding.
It was not very long ago that Brigadier Ahsan Tiwana, a nature loving agriculturist had gone from pillar to post suggesting that the extra outflow of Rivers Indus, Jehlum and Chenab should in any emergency be diverted towards this great depression thereby providing water for agriculture, charging of aquifers and reclaiming lands of the Choolistan and Nara Deserts. The wisdom of his proposal is now vindicated. Much of the water could have been diverted to these areas especially when Ali Wan Bund had earlier been made just for diverting water to this untamed desert. As a result the main desert remains dry because its upper fringes irrigated by the canal systems owned by political elites had to be protected. But there is still a heavier cost to be paid by the cities of Kotri, Thatta, Hyderabad and Badin for this act tantamount to criminal intent and complicity to incompetence and vested interests.
25% of Pakistan’s plains including heartland are flooded, infrastructure and cash crops destroyed and over 30% people mostly poor have to start life from scratch after the water has receded. Once the water goes away, the land revenue department will have a field day delineating boundaries and open gateways to massive corruption and bloody feuds. The over centralized response (in reaction to corruption at lower tiers) of NDMA and ERRA-like reconstruction and disaster management organizations and legal issues will slow resettlements.
Many people are now comparing the indigenous national and international response of the 2005 earthquake to these floods. There are three simple explanations for the lack of it.
First, more than 40% of Pakistan’s population has been directly or indirectly affected. Many of the people who responded in 2005 are either victims of this disaster or are helping relatives and friends who are. We are now talking of the entire KPK minus Peshawar, Mardan and Kohat, at least 11 districts of Punjab, 11 of Sindh, over 7 of Balochistan and entire Gilgit-Baltistan. With over 50 million population affected, the scale is just too big for such a response.
Secondly, international donors have been slow to react. They fear that like 2005, much of the aid will fall into the wrong hands. Aid workers are reluctant to travel due to security reasons as the entire Southern Punjab and Northern Sindh has been portrayed as a hotbed of Talibanisation. In fact there is vested interest that would hope that the flood situation breaks up Pakistan.
Thirdly, a country that had the world’s highest Charity to GDP ratio is at a contradiction within itself. They are reluctant to trust their charities in the hands of political and bureaucratic elites that are corrupt and part of the problem. This trust deficit is the biggest cause of delayed national mobilization. People either go and do something directly or are waiting for a GODOT to take charge.
But there are many other scars that will be left on the political and development fabric of Pakistan.
First, and of immediate nature is the misery caused to the fertile plains of Balochistan. Soon the rising poverty, absence of governance and resettlement issues will give rise to crime and centrifugal forces. Much of the area will for times to come become permanent lakes and ponds and a grim reminder of the manipulation of flows by political elites. Ironically, this is also the part of Balochistan that has stood like a rock against forces of secession. Poverty may breed crime at the societal level but one step up, it also breeds sub nationalism.
Notice how a new course of River Indus has been artificially created in an area that has no drainage. We are likely to see lakes and new ponds in some of the most fertile areas of Balochistan. This water will continue to pour in till River Indus does not recede.
Secondly, government’s insensitivity to Atabad Disaster and landslide phenomena since 2002 is a cause of concern. No teams of geologists and hydrologist have been created to study these unprecedented phenomena that have virtually cut off vast areas of Pakistan as also land routes to China.
The third issue relates to dredging of the dams. Warsak has outlived its life and Tarbela is badly silted. It is hoped that these heavy flows may have carried away some of the embedded silt. But more than building new controversial dams, there is a need to study latest technologies and evolve a method to dredge and reclaim these dams not only on continuous basis but also taking advantage of high peak floods and water velocities.
Fourthly, would Kalabagh have averted this disaster? Considering that the dam will be down of KPK that faced the joint brunt of Kabul, Panjkora, Chitral and Swat Rivers the answer is no. If anything, it could have prevented some damages downstream at the cost of submerging Nowshera, Kohat, Chaarsada and some areas of Swabi. So what is the logic of making a dam that inundates the major cities and economic hubs of KPK? Maybe the geologists, hydrologists and engineers consider the option of a smaller storage reservoir at Kalabagh by reducing the height of the dam.
Fifthly, considering that Kohistan and Diamer are beset with mysterious land slide phenomena, very young and loose rock structure and in proximity of major fault lines, would it be prudent to construct Basha at all? With a 300M vertical wall hanging over Tarbela, KKH realigned and memories of Bunji and Atabad still alive, would it be sensible to rush for a Basha that has its own destruction writ large.
All these are very crucial issues at a time when the nation waits for a GODOT. What Mr. Altaf Hussain and Imran Khan are saying is a true reflection of the feelings of majority Pakistanis.