SUKKUR: Already flooded Sindh province braced on Sunday for a fresh deluge from swollen rivers in the north as the death toll from monsoon topped 1,000.
Officials warned torrents of water are expected to reach Sindh in the next few days, adding misery to millions already affected by the floods.
Sindh has been pounded by weeks of torrential rain that have flooded farmlands across the province, but now torrents from swollen tributaries in the mountainous north are coursing down the Indus, due to arrive in coming days.
As the deluge makes its way to the province, the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in Sindh lies with a 90-year-old barrage that directs the flow of water from the Indus River into one of the world’s largest irrigation systems.
“Right now, Indus is in high flood,” said Aziz Soomro, the supervisor of Sukkur Barrage. “That water coming into the river is scaring us,” Irshad Ali, a 42-year-old farmer near the city of Sukkur, told AFP as he lamented the date palms and vegetable patches he lost to the monsoon.
People pin hopes on Sukkur Barrage to redirect water; 119 killed in 24 hours as death toll reaches 1,033
Water from the Indus is already lapping over its banks in several places, and unless the Sukkur Barrage can control the flow, catastrophe will result.
Originally known as Lloyd Barrage, it was considered an engineering marvel when completed in 1932, capable of discharging 1.4 million cubic metres of water per second through 19 steel gates hinged between stone pillars.
“It has completed 90 years, whereas it had a 50-year guarantee,” Minister for Water Resources Khursheed Shah told AFP.
“So we are 40 years beyond its guaranteed life.”
Water is redirected by the barrage to a series of canals totalling nearly 10,000 kilometres that thread through farmlands, but years of neglect mean they are not capable of dealing with today’s record volumes.
“Silt has been piling up and it is not being removed,” said Shah, adding a lack of equipment meant the canals hadn’t been dredged since 2010.
“The city is already four feet below the river levels,” minister Shah said.
In parts of Sindh, the only dry areas are the elevated roads and railroad tracks, alongside which tens of thousands of poor rural folk have taken shelter with their livestock.
Near Sukkur, a row of tents stretched for two kilometres, with people still arriving by boats loaded with wooden charpoy beds and pots and pans — the only possessions they could salvage.
“Water started rising in the river from yesterday, inundating all the villages and forcing us to flee,” labourer Wakeel Ahmed said.
The barrage supervisor said every sluice gate was open to deal with a river flow of more than 600,000 cubic metres per second.
The flooding could not come at a worse time for Pakistan, where the economy is in free fall and the former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted by a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April.
“This embankment is strong, machinery is available and the staff on alert,” said overseer Shahid Hussain.
Officials say this year’s monsoon flooding has affected more than 33 million people — one in seven Pakistanis — destroying or badly damaging nearly a million homes. The government has declared an emergency to deal with floods.
While the capital Islamabad and adjoining garrison city of Rawalpindi have escaped the worst of the flooding, its effects were still being felt. “Tomatoes, peas, onions and other vegetables are not available due to the floods,” he told AFP, adding prices were also soaring.
Engineers were scrambling on Sunday to reinforce Ali Wahan levee, a crucial curve of the Indus River in the city that is threatened by the swollen river.
“The good thing is the timing,” he added, explaining that flooding caused by local rain should have receded by the time the water from the north courses through.
But if it does rain again closer to home, the situation could change quickly.
On Sunday, the National Disaster Management Authority said the death toll from the monsoon rains had reached 1,033, with 119 killed in the previous 24 hours.
It said this year’s floods were comparable to 2010 —the worst on record —when over 2,000 people died and nearly a fifth of the country was under water.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said he had never seen anything like it before.
“Village after village has been wiped out. Millions of houses have been destroyed. There has been immense destruction,” he said after flying over Sindh by helicopter.
Thousands of people living near flood-swollen rivers in the north were also ordered to evacuate from danger zones, but army helicopters and rescuers are still plucking laggards to safety.
Officials blame the devastation on human-driven climate change, saying Pakistan is unfairly bearing the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices elsewhere in the world.
Pakistan is eighth on NGO Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index, a list of countries deemed most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change.
Exacerbating the situation, corruption, poor planning and the flouting of local regulations mean thousands of buildings have been erected in areas prone to seasonal flooding.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2022