Flood-affected residents of a village along the Puran Dhoro waterway have to wade through knee-deep water to leave their homes.—Umair Ali
Flood-affected residents of a village along the Puran Dhoro waterway have to wade through knee-deep water to leave their homes.—Umair Ali

LIFE for the middle-aged Mitho Ahmedani and his large family has remained unchanged, until last month. That was when the waters hit his area — on Aug 28 — as a result of two breaches at RD-7 and RD-8 of Puran Dhoro — a natural waterway, turning his whole world upside down.

“Look at my [inundated] village near the sugarcane fields. We have been living on the road since the breach water submerged it,” Mitho said, pointing to his relative Lakhan Ahmedani, who was wading through heavy floodwaters with a charpoy on his head.

In Tando Bago, a taluka of the oil-rich but disaster-prone Badin district on the left bank of the Indus, Mitho’s family was living in a tent on a dry patch of a road. “Nobody from the government came to us. We are dependent on handouts as there is no labour in my area either,” he rued.

“Flows from Puran [Dhoro] that drowned us are heading towards Pangrio,” said Mitho, alluding to the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) system, a drainage mechanism for the left bank areas of lower Sindh.

Irfan Bhurgari, Mitho’s fellow villager, concurred, saying: “We are a victim of politics.”

He claimed that an MPA had opposed a proposal to make a relief cut at RD-211 of the spinal drain of LBOD, believing it would spell disaster for the people of Tharparkar district’s Kaloi taluka and areas of Tando Bago taluka.

Irfan revealed that chilli was grown on a large scale in the Puran’s bed. “Kilns also exist there. There is big business that is being protected at the cost of people,” he said.

Read: Flooded lower Sindh reels in pain and destruction

A visit to the site revealed crops like cotton, sugarcane and chilli were being cultivated in the area. The agricultural land’s surface level was 18 feet lower than flows in the spinal drain on Sunday. There were legal as well as illegal settlements around Puran, Dawn was told.

“All illegal settlements in the Puran’s bed must be dismantled. People occupied it after this route of Dhoro was abandoned after LBOD’s construction,” MPA Ismail Rahu, a Badin native, said.

Badin district, by and large, remained safe from the destructive rains. But the situation turned ugly for at least five union councils of Tando Bago, the constituency of Dr Zulfiqar Mirza’s son Hasnain Mirza, after the RD-7 and RD-8 breaches.

In his view, the state should take steps to protect the legitimate population by raising protective embankments, after which a controlled cut can be made in RD-211 to let Puran flow on its natural path. “All private dykes raised to protect cash crops must be dismantled,” he said.

Locals, too, seem to have lost patience. They blocked a section of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), connecting Islamkot’s Thar coal power project to Karachi and Badin, to demand a relief cut which would allow Puran Dhoro’s flows to take their actual path. This would free their areas of the stagnant water.

Their counterparts in Tharparkar and Tando Bago have, however, blocked another section of CPEC, vowing to resist any attempt at a cut that can inundate their village and agricultural land. Talks between the two sides have remained inconclusive. For both, it is a do-or-die situation.

“Nature drowned the people of Badin. Now they want us to sink,” reacted Ayaz Khattak, a member of a dialogue committee from Tharparkar. “The flows have started receding in the spinal drain. The Kaloi taluka will drown if this cut is made. The resultant water accumulating in our areas will not recede for six months.”

Sindh Irrigation Department Chief Engineer Zarif Khero believes “politics is indeed being played” over a cut in Puran Dhoro’s RD-211. He said the RD-8 breach in Puran was plugged quickly and the one at RD-7 was only opened due to unusual rains on Sept 10. “A huge quantity of water from these breaches was again diverted to the same spinal drain through two other cuts at RD-233 and RD-257.”

Sindh ministers Jam Khan Shoro and Syed Sardar Shah, as well as MPA Arbab Lutfullah have paid visits to the area and discussed the matter without coming up with a solution after irrigation officers indicated the possibility of the RD-211 cut.

According to Zarif, officials did propose a cut to take some load off the spinal drain [LBOD’s main branch]. However, he explained water flows in the LBOD system were receding fast and stagnant water had receded in many areas. So, there was no need for a cut at RD-211 now, he maintained.

“Any such cut will create a 39km lake that will eventually get faster flows from Nawabshah and Sanghar,” he said, adding: “The government has initiated several works this year, including underpasses for Puran’s revival. All illegal structures obstructing it will be removed.”

The LBOD has been a point of contention among communities in Mirpurkhas and Badin districts ever since its construction. For the people of Nawabshah and Sanghar it is a boon, but for those in Mirpurkhas and Badin it continues to be a bane.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2022

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