Aug 21, 2010

'Nasty fears' about the Indus

Noreen Haider
The Tibetan Plateau contains the world's third-largest store of ice. Qin Dahe, the former head of the China Meteorological Administration, has issued a grim warning about the rapid melting and warmer temperatures in the area.
"Temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any other part of the world... In the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mudflows… In the long run, the glaciers are vital lifelines of the Indus River. Once they vanish, water supplies in Pakistan will be in peril."
According to experts, the destructive behaviour of the Indus which produced the floods had been predicted. Many warnings were issued regarding the increased flow of water in it because of the climate change affecting the planet.
"There is insufficient data to say what will happen to the Indus," says David Grey, the World Bank's senior water advisor in South Asia. "But we all have very nasty fears that the flows of the Indus could be severely, severely affected by glacier melt as a consequence of climate change," he says. "We need to be concerned about that. Deeply, deeply concerned."
The floods were caused by canal bursts and breaches and by protection bunds giving way, in an area ranging from Mianwali district to Layyah, Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur. The breaches in the canals were not only caused by the massive volume of water but also by the creation of gaps by the Punjab's irrigation department for diversion of floodwater.
The result was the inundation of towns and villages which had been totally unprepared for the impending danger. In places like Mehmood Kot, Kot Addu, Sanawan and Dera Din Panah and Mitthan Kot, the populations were caught completely unawares. There was a high number of deaths by drowning. Billions of dollars were lost in property and infrastructure destroyed, cattle washed away and crops wiped out. Hundreds of villages were completely inundated by tides of floodwater as high as fifteen feet.
Why was the pressure of the Indus River not released despite the breaches in the protective bunds and diversion of floodwater into Mianwali? Was breaking the bunds actually the last resort? Was Jinnah Barrage at risk at all? Who gave the orders for the canal breaches?
And what role did local influential landowners play in the bund breaches?
There are many administrative questions too. Should there been water flowing in the canals in the monsoon season? Had the canals been drained properly before the start of the monsoons? Why did the Punjab government not have an evacuation plan when there had been warning of floods months in advance? As for the wisdom of letting water flow in the link canals--for them to be breached later, as happened in so many places--the floodwaters were carried by the canals even to places which lay at a distance from its natural course of the river.
One place to be hit particularly badly was Mehmood Kot near Kot Addu, in Muzaffargarh district. Eyewitness accounts say that the floodwater entering Mehmood Kot was a ten-foot tide advancing like a high-speed train. The tide inundated everything within a few minutes.
"We were able to save nothing," said a resident of Mehmood Kot. "We are just lucky to be alive." This tide was caused by the breaching of the Muzaffargarh Canal two kilometres from Muzaffargarh town. The towns of Sanawan, Ghazi Ghat, Lal Pir were swept away, as were dozens of villages.
According to the Punjab irrigation department, the Indus was flowing at a frightening level when it entered Punjab. The constant rains in the Sulaiman Ranges caused fierce hill torrents: for example, there were 37,000 cusecs in the Sanghar torrent, 27,780 cusecs in the Vehova torrent, 24,767 cusecs in the Vidore torrent, 29,270 cusecs in the Sorrilund torrent and 33,800 cusecs in the Kaura torrent.
Rojhan, Kot Mitthan and Jampur in Rajanpur district were devastated by the hill torrents. In Dera Ghazi Khan town, torrents from Wadoor inundated roads. The high flood breached the Katchi canal bank and broke the siphon on the DG Canal. The irrigation department made breaches on the Katchi Canal crossing into DG Canal in order to divert water from Dera Ghazi Khan town.
Because of intense pressure from the massive flow of the river, the left Marginal Bund of Taunsa Barrage collapsed at RD30-32 on Aug 2. The tremendous body of water resulting from this made its way inland, finding its way into TP Link Canal. The Taunsa-Punjnad Canal has the capacity of 1,500 cusecs but it experienced a surge of more than 3,000 cusecs of water, and breached at various points. TP Canal's banks were breached by the irrigation department at various other points. The water from TP Canal was drained into Muzaffargarh Canal. That canal, which has the maximum capacity of 8,900 cusecs, could not withstand the resulting surge of 2,000 cusecs and breached at many points.
The bursting of bands of TP and Muzaffargarh Canals completely inundated Kot Addu, Dera Din Panah, Mehmoood Kot, Jhoke Utra, Ghousabad, Shero, Basti Pattal and Qasba Gujrat, where the water rose up to fifteen feet and more at some places. More than half-a-million people were affected.
Meanwhile, the flood badly affected railway infrastructure, causing suspension of railway traffic. The floods damaged railway tracks at various locations on the Multan-Kot Addu junction, the Kot Addu-Dera Ghazi Khan-Kashmore section and on the Kot Addu-Bhakkar-Mianwali section.
The other places where the Punjab irrigation department made breaches in TP Canal include Muhammad Wala, in an attempt to divert the floodwater to Chenab River. The irrigation department states that the breaches were made in order to save PARCO and the KAPCO Power Plant. Breaches were made on Rangpur Canal also. Another breach was made in a section of Muzaffargarh Canal in order to divert its water to Chenab River. The Irrigation Department officials admit that the breaches did not succeed in diverting the floodwaters into Chenab River and contributed to the inundation of Kot Addu and surrounding areas. Breaches were also made in the Talhiri distributory at Ganeshwala in Muzaffargarh, two kilometres from Muzaffargarh town. In various places the breaches, instead of diverting water, created or worsened inundation in towns and villages.
In Mianwali a relief cut was made in the breach section of the Right Guide Band in order to release pressure at the Jinnah Barrage on the Indus River, but, similarly, it only resulted in the flooding of towns and villages.
There need for a full-scale inquiry into the flooding of the Indus and the real reasons of the unnatural course that the river took must be brought out into the public. The Indus is one of the mightiest rivers of the world and is among the few rivers which have a tidal bore. The Indus has tremendous power and it cannot be treated with disrespect. Handling the Indus needs utmost seriousness, professionalism and expertise, especially at a time when it is at its mightiest.
Today there are over twenty million people affected by floods, hungry and sick-- without even a few gulps of water to drink. They have lost lives, livelihoods and homes.
Who was on the watch? Anyone?

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