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Devastating Badin deluge

A disaster risk reduction strategy must be developed by designing appropriate structural measures and devising need based, non-structural measures to reduce the risk of disasters. - File photo

WHILE the memories of devastating 2010 floods are still fresh, another deluge has hit a number of southern districts of Sindh.

People have lost their lives, thousands have become homeless, cattle have died, and standing crops have perished. Thousands of people are still stranded and efforts are under way to rescue them.

Though, temporary camps have been set up in Badin and other areas to provide food, shelter and relief to the destitute, a number of deaths have been reported due to outbreak of viral and waterborne diseases.

Badin, being the worst affected district, is prone to rain related damages that are attributed to breaches and overtopping of water in saline water drains developed under the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) project.

Thatta and Badin are two major disaster prone districts. Cyclones, heavy rainfalls, droughts and floods follow each other often in quick succession. The intervening respite is normally short lived. Badin has witnessed series of disasters in last couple of years such as, floods in 1995, cyclone in May 1999 and an earthquake in January 2001 and again floods in 2003.

The painful memories of desolation caused by these calamities were still fresh, when the locals had to face another calamity in the form of worst rains.

In Badin alone, more than 1,000 fish farms with fish and seedlings worth millions of rupees have been washed away by heavy rains. The poor have less or no assets, and their livelihood is dependent on natural resources—land, water, crops, fish, tress, fruits and vegetables. All these assets have been destroyed due to floods, rendering the poor more vulnerable to natural calamities.

Badin district is a major producer of oil and gas and has a number of sugar factories. But it is ironic that the district that produces oil is itself extremely poor. Rich natural resources and poverty co-exist in this part of the country.

The Tidal Link of LBOD constructed at a cost of Rs785 million despite the objections of the local communities on its design, has resulted in degradation of lands and increase in poverty in Badin and Thatta districts. The construction of this link was opposed vehemently by locals. Their objections were based on the unnatural design of the sub-project, which was going to choke the natural flow of drainage in the area. The local communities were proved right. The banks of the newly constructed Tidal Link were washed away by floods in the same year, resulting in inundation of the fertile lands with toxic drainage water.

In September 2006, the World Bank’s inspection panel acknowledged that the WB-funded Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD), the Tidal Link and the Cholri Wier contained design faults and their construction had led to sea intrusion and badly affected the ecology and livelihood of people in Thatta, Badin and southern Sindh. The independent panel to ensure accountability in the World Bank operations also conceded that the Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS) had also led to increased salinity in the underground water. As a result, the quality of land and drinking water had deteriorated.

Increased salinity, it said, had affected large tracts of agricultural lands and the Tidal Link failure had severely harmed the local ecosystem, wildlife and fisheries, upon which many people depend for their livelihoods. People in these areas were also faced with serious problems of drinking water, besides having lost their meadows.

It emerged in the investigation that the WB had itself ignored its own operating policies and procedures in funding the programme that also included completion of the LBOD as part of its pipeline of investments.

The panel found that the designers had not evaluated the likelihood that under certain meteorological conditions, high surface water run-off from upstream areas could coincide with high water levels in the sea. The design assumption also failed during the July 2003 rainfall.

Disaster relief is a readymade answer to all predictable and unpredictable disasters. This has, however, not helped the local communities significantly in the recent past. Even though Badin is prone to recurring disasters, no preparedness has been made by the government.

A disaster risk reduction strategy must be developed by designing appropriate structural measures and devising need based, non-structural measures to reduce the risk of disasters. Structural measures relate to engineering and technological answers to the problem, while non-structural measures are directed towards socio-economic concerns and development of the communities that are frequently at risk.

The author is associated with WWF-Pakistan.

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