Brigadier (R) Samson Simon Sharaf
This year’s floods besides bringing destruction and misery to Pakistanis have also raised many questions about the ability and intent of the government to manage crises, avert failures and reconstruct. In case these questions are not addressed, then the ability of the government to rebuild and create an opportunity out of a challenge is also questionable. This implies a very pathetic socio economic equation as an ends means relationship; something a country torn by strife, dysfunctionalism, corruption, economic meltdown and terrorism can least afford.
The flood and its aftermath have raised many technical questions that that need to be addressed lest they become folklore of exploitation, corruption and deprivation for the most fertile areas of Pakistan and its people rendered hapless by the cruel force of nature.
The flood is now over a month old and has yet to debouche into the Arabian Sea. Rather it continues to move at a snail’s pace whilst challenging the Southern areas of Pakistan, intercepting highways, inundating oil/gas fields and naval garrisons. Now as more rains fall in upper Pakistan and Kirthar Range, the menace will prolong miseries inasmuch as the political spinoffs of poverty.
All pondage areas of Pakistan to divert floodwaters to create wetlands are practically dry. The excess flow of Chenab rather than be diverted to the East was diverted to the West where it inundated huge tracts of prime agriculture lands and town. Similarly, the dykes and levees on Indus and its drainage system were breached to the East, flooding a vast tract between Indus and Chenab. Indus in this area also created a new course and debouched into Chenab North West of Multan. In contrast the pondage areas of South Punjab and Sindh maintained as reserves for the Shikari Elites remained dry.
A satellite photo of the flood water taken on 15 August 2010 at a time when Punjab had been ravaged and Indus was just being diverted near Jacabobad. Note how Indus had joined Chenab North West of Multan at multiple points. All pondage areas East of Chenab are dry.
For quite some time the water levels at Guddu and Sukker Barrage were over 1,000,000 cusecs. The arrival at Kotri was much below expected. Despite the havoc it has now wreaked in Thatta, Sajawal and Johi, the discharge still does not match the initial thrust at the two major barrages upstream. This means that the flows recorded at the two barrages were minus the diverted flows that hit Balochistan and Upper Sindh. Where has all this water gone and when will it recede is a big concern?
In this NASA photo of 7 September 2010, notice the new Course of River Indus created by diverting the flood waters to the North. The water has inundated parts of Balochistan and Upper Sindh. According to experts, the darker parallel Indus to the left suggest depth or a greater sediment load. In my view it also indicates more static nature ie huge lagoons in making and hence a thin stream flows into the Manchar Lake.
There is no doubt now that the entire dyke and levee management was done arbitrarily by non technical people sans intervention of geologists, hydrologist and hydro-archeologists with historical knowledge of the river system behavior. The result is a complete breach of national interests and security tantamount to treachery.
For a long time our water managers have talked of the structural insecurity to Pakistan through Indian Water Management Schemes. Yet the biggest cut of them all has been inflicted by our very own. Indian release of water at Ravi, Sutlej, Beas and through Hanumangarh has been controlled and minimal following the perennial pattern. No doubt that the floods have been massive, but the damages could have been limited through professionalism and scientific knowledge.
So what are the challenges ahead and how we must face them?
The first process of darning the shreds is to carryout both damage limitation and rehabilitation simultaneously. This will particularly be a daunting task in areas that are likely to remain submerged for prolonged periods. The entire Dera Allah Yar, Manchar, Juhi Complex overhangs like a daemon that will take its toll before the exorcism is complete incurring socio economic and political scars for a long time to come.
Secondly, the prime lands of Southern Punjab are destroyed. Misery is likely to coalesce with the political notion of devolving Punjab and breeding grounds of militancy. The scale of disaster and its political economy cannot be offset even by the best of rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. There always will remain a window of exploitation and vested interests will not relent.
Thirdly, the urbanization and migration of rural populations to the cities? If unplanned, it will create law and order issues endemic to migration trends. The biggest problems in the long term will be faced by Hyderabad and Karachi that are already vulnerable to ethnic conflicts.
Fourthly, the trends to convert a tragedy to money making opportunities are already visible. This lack of transparency is already holding back donors. The NGO-Public Development debate is becoming ugly. A public-private sector transparent mechanism is a need of the hour to ensure that even trivial projects are not monetarily sexed up to divert profits.
Lastly, barring the KPK, none of the governments both at provincial and federal level appear to be delivering. The challenge is made even more difficult by political intent and enormity of the tasks; Hence, a need for political transparency beyond party lines. If this is not done, situational dynamics will throw up a GODOT and the entire political fabric will be consumed in fits of public rage.
But this GODOT must come riding the wave of public aspirations. As in the past, doctored institutionalism will not work.