Posts Tagged ‘ Indus River ’

Moving Forward From the Flood – II

By Arif Belgaumi for The Express Tribune

The Indus, like the other rivers that originate in the Himalayas, carries an enormous sediment load — something in the order of 300 tons per square kilometre per year. The Himalayas, a relatively young mountain range, is comprised of soft rocks which are highly susceptible to erosion by the monsoon rains. In the past – every spring and summer – the Indus would bring the waters of melted snow and rains from the mountains, as well as millions of tons of sediment to the plains and eventually to its delta at the Arabian Sea. The sediment would be deposited along the river banks as the river flooded, and in the delta, in a vast fan that stretches several hundred kilometres out into the Arabian Sea.

In the last 150 years, with the construction of numerous levees, barrages and dams on the Indus and its tributaries, the natural flow of the river has been dramatically altered. To bring more land under cultivation, the course of the Indus has been restricted within its banks. Huge quantities of water – nearly 75 per cent of the total – are drawn off from the Indus for crop irrigation. Unfortunately, water management projects are engineered to control the flow of water and are rarely designed to address the enormous sediment load. Large amounts of water, drawn from the Indus for irrigation, limit the river’s ability to carry the sediment which settles in the river bed. Over the years this has resulted in raising the river bed well above the surrounding land. Even higher levees are then built to contain the river within its banks.

In its constrained state, the Indus is incapable of handling flood surges. Once the flood waters breach the levees there is no way for the flood waters to drain back into the river. This year, the flood itself was a short event; we have spent most of the last several weeks moving the water from one area to another, trying to spread it out and minimise its damage. The Indus and its tributaries naturally drain a vast area of this country. Our water management infrastructure has rendered them incapable of performing that function. In trying to convert the Indus into the equivalent of a vast domestic water system, whereby with the turn of a switch water can be tapped off as and when needed, we have severely compromised its ability to drain its watershed.

Similarly, dams will do little in the long run to control floods or even store extensive amounts of water for irrigation. Again, the sediment in the river is the determining factor. The Tarbela Dam, which was completed in the mid 70s and was a major engineering achievement for Pakistan, has already lost about 28 per cent of its reservoir capacity due to silting. In another generation, it is quite likely that the Tarbela’s water storage capacity will be reduced to nothing and it will simply function as a run-of-the-river hydroelectric power generator. That seems like an extremely short lifespan for a major infrastructure project which, during its construction, was responsible for an enormous socio-cultural and environmental impact on the surrounding region.

The Kalabagh Dam, or any other dam on the Indus, will likely face the same choice of a very high initial cost in terms of financial investment, population displacement and environmental cost, for diminishing returns over a relatively short lifespan. This is not to say that dams do not have their utility. The Tarbela Dam has been instrumental in revolutionising agriculture in Pakistan. But the benefits of large dams need to be weighed against the huge costs paid by the affected people and by the environment.

A balance needs to be struck between the needs for agriculture and domestic use and the need for the river system to sustain itself and its delta. New thinking on water management strategies must be introduced in Pakistan. More thought and effort must be expended on water conservation, reduction of wastage, and careful selection of low-water-consuming crops. This public discourse is sorely missing in Pakistan and needs to be initiated at the earliest so that we move forward from this calamity and establish a more productive relationship with the river that sustains our country.

The Scope of Pakistan’s Floods: By the Numbers

By David Knowles for AOL News

Dubbed Pakistan’s “flood of the century,” heavy monsoon rains have washed out upward of one-fourth of the area of the country. The scope of the ongoing devastation is on a scale that is difficult to comprehend, especially to those far away and unfamiliar with the territory. Still it is alarming to consider the estimate given by concerned officials on Wednesday — that up to one-fifth of the entire landmass is now underwater.

The flooding has largely been located in the center of the country and is being caused by overflow from the Indus and Chenab rivers. Surge Desk has been rounding up the figures from the tragedy and has the following context.

Area
Some 150,000 square kilometers, or approximately 93,000 square miles, have been affected by the rising waters, Voice of America reported. That’s a little smaller than the size of the state of Michigan.

Fatalities
So far, at least 1,600 have been killed in the floods.

Agricultural losses
The floods have so far destroyed 2 million bales of cotton, BusinessWeek reported, nearly one-seventh of the country’s yearly target. In addition, 500,000 tons of wheat have been ruined, The New York Times said.

U.S. military response
One thousand U.S. Marines and 24 military helicopters have been deployed to Pakistan to help with relief efforts, The Associated Press reported.

Pakistanis displaced

According to the United Nations, 7 million citizens of Pakistan have been left homeless because of the floodwaters. Furthermore, the U.N. estimates that 14 million Pakistanis, roughly 8 percent of the country’s population, have been adversely affected by the floods. According to UNICEF, 6 million of those are children. All told, approximately 4,700 villages have been wiped out, Voice of America news reported.

Effect on war with the Taliban
Some 60,000 Pakistani troops that had recently been fighting the Taliban have now been put on flood assistance, The Telegraph reports.

Foreign aid
The United Nations is seeking foreign contributions of $460 million to tend to immediate needs, such as food, water and temporary shelters. The United States has pledged $71 million in aid, the biggest amount offered by any country so far, The New York Times reports.

U.N. Appeals for Pakistan Aid as Rains Threaten More Flooding

By Saeed Shah for The McClatchy Newspapers

The United Nations appealed Wednesday for $459 million in emergency aid for Pakistan as fresh monsoon rains raised fears that new flooding could drive more people from their homes, deepening the humanitarian catastrophe.

Storms lashed the mountainous northwest, close to the border with Afghanistan, and the northeastern Gilgit region, swelling rivers that empty into the central Indus River before it reaches the city of Sukkur in southern Sindh province, which already is full of people displaced from surrounding areas.

More flooding would prevent vital repairs to Indus River embankments and dikes that protect farmland, allowing water to spread even further when the fresh flows reach Sukkur sometime next week, officials warned.

“Once this peak passes, another flood is being formed in the mountains and then a third,” Sindh’s irrigation minister, Saifullah Dharejo, said in an interview. “If we cannot plug the breaches (in the embankments), the water will keep expanding out.”

“This is a grave situation,” he said.

Sindh is now the focus of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history. They reached the province after washing down the Indus River Valley, powered by unusually fierce monsoon rains that began in northern areas of the country some three weeks ago.

The deluge has left a trail of devastation, destroying roads, bridges and other infrastructure and overwhelming the government’s ability to cope. It’s affected some 14 million people, of whom an estimated 1,600 have been killed and about 2 million left homeless.

The overwhelmingly Muslim country of 170 million, a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, already had been struggling to cope with an economic crisis and Islamic militants allied with al-Qaida when the disaster hit.

The United Nations appealed Wednesday for emergency aid, warning that even those who had been saved from drowning were threatened with sickness and hunger.

“If we don’t act fast enough, many more people could die,” John Holmes, the U.N. humanitarian aid chief, said in New York. He called the disaster “one of the most challenging that any country has faced in recent years.”

In Sukkur, the head of Sindh’s provincial government, Qaim Ali Shah, dismissed the amount of international aid pledged so far as “peanuts.”

The U.S. will be beefing up its assistance to the relief effort with 19 helicopters from the U.S.S. Peleliu, an amphibious assault vessel that is deploying off the Pakistani port city of Karachi, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced Wednesday in Tampa, Fla. The helicopters will be used to distribute food aid and ferry displaced people.

The ship’s aircraft will replace six U.S. military helicopters that were diverted from missions in Afghanistan.

At the Sukkur Barrage, 1.13 million cubic feet of water per second was rushing through the 66 gates of the mile-wide flood-control barrier, which the former British colonial government built on the Indus River in 1932.

Experts think that the flooding at Sukkur probably will ebb Thursday, but with more rain falling in the north, the water will remain high and the next onslaught of flooding could push it even higher, they said.

“Rainfall (in the north) takes about a week to reach Sukkur,” said Muzammil Qureshi, a retired engineer formerly in charge of irrigation for Sindh. “All five rivers converge before Sukkur.”

The onslaught has burst dike banks, drowning hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Sindh alone.

Only from the air do the scale of the disaster and the remoteness of the affected villages become apparent.

A McClatchy Newspapers reporter toured the region around Sukkur on a Pakistani army helicopter and saw mile after mile of water, swamp-like in some places, like the open sea in others. Thatched roofs and the tops of trees rose above the water. The outlines of abandoned villages were just visible beneath the surface.

The helicopter pilots had been diverted from battling Taliban militants in the Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan. Around 60,000 Pakistani troops are participating in rescue efforts, raising concerns about the country’s anti-terrorism campaign.

When the helicopter swooped low, it became apparent that there were people struggling to survive in the watery landscape, marooned in dozens of villages on slightly raised ground. Women, men and children could be seen in waist-high water, their buffaloes wallowing in groups.

Hundreds of people had taken refuge on raised embankments, built to hold irrigation channels or dirt roads, but they were stranded without food or shelter from the ferocious sun. Goats, donkeys and trunks of possessions kept them company.

While the military continues to rescue people, many others are refusing to leave their villages, hoping for the water to recede. However, the fresh onslaught that’s on its way from the north could make survival all but impossible.

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