Footprints: Returning to ruined abodes

Published October 3, 2022
KOT DIJI: Flooded streets in the main bazaar area.—Umair Ali
KOT DIJI: Flooded streets in the main bazaar area.—Umair Ali

“We had to leave goods as we left the house after it was flooded around two months back,” recalls Syed Karam Ali Shah while pointing towards his house in Kot Diji, an ancient site of Sindh in Khairpur, formerly a princely state.

“I woke up to find water around us. I thought I was dreaming,” he said. Karam returned to his abode in Bani Hashim area, one of several mohallas of Kot Diji. But he doesn’t find his house in good shape.

An elderly, Bux Ali, had the same concern on his return after 45 days. His house was not worth living.

“I need to rebuild it afresh or go for massive repair as there are cracks all around,” said Ali, a retired soldier.

He said there was no evacuation plan available with the administration. “People took it as a normal rainfall that turned out to be a deluge afterwards. We spent the night at the railway station in anticipation of a Karachi-bound train whose arrival delayed due to inundation of up and down country tracks.”

In Kot Diji these days, one needs to board a boat, if available, from taluka hospital Kot Diji or Thadal Chowk — named after a famous soft drink (thadal) sale point — to reach one part of the city where some families were staying on a hillock. The city remained under water for close to two months.

“We are left to fend for ourselves. People from Bugti, Mirasi and Magsi communities from Maula Dad Bugti village have shifted to this hillock,” one of the flood victims complained.

Read: Flooded lower Sindh reels in pain and destruction

Historic fort of Kot Diji overlooks the city, surrounded by water. It looks like a ghost city now. The city has remained under water for around two months. Most inhabitants have migrated.

Well-off families had alternative accommodations — mostly rented premises. Some shifted to Karachi. But the poor have ended up in makeshift camps and await food and drinking water supplies.

“The octogenarians and nonagenarians of our area tell us they never witnessed such kind of deluge in their life,” explained Mujahid Hussain Jumani, a resident as he accompanied me to almost 100-year-old ship like architecture of his house that collapsed during the devastating rains.

A pumping machine was installed outside taluka hospital, around one kilometre away from the city area, which was draining out water from the western side of Kot Diji.

“Water flows from Ubhan Shah [a shrine] site drowned us,” said Anwar Shah, who had shifted his family to Karachi. According to him, the prime reason that drowned Kot Diji was the disappearance of a ring dyke that had been given by the Mirs, alluding to Mir Atta Hussain Talpur.

“The ring dyke was built by my maternal grandfather in 1972,” said Mir Altaf alias Mir Jani Talpur as we took a round of the city. The bund, stretched over eight kilometres, touches Mehrano — a private game reserve of Mirs of Khairpur — on the one end and Tando Shah on the other to protect Kot Diji from floods. But this dyke doesn’t exist any longer.

According to Jumani, the dyke had vanished as people started cultivation there through water from Mir Wah, a local name for one of the seven major canals of Sukkur barrage, Khairpur Feeder East like Abul Wah for Khairpur Feeder West. Both canals emanate from left side of the colonial-era barrage. “Lands were not cultivated previously, but now it is being done. Private dykes are being built by people. So, water finds a new course towards Kot Diji.”

Kot Diji’s main bazaar is still under five to six feet of water. Cracks on shops and houses are visible. “Once the water recedes most shops built of mud and bricks in the bazaar will eventually collapse”, said Jumani as he pointed towards a mosque where the dewatering machine was functioning.

“This will help dispose of water from Sirai Imdad Ali Abbasi, Talpur and Muzaffar Shah and residents of these areas will be able to return and our mobility will improve as well,” he said.

A temporary embankment between northern and southern ends of the city was raised to divert water flows from the eastern side to take the old path on gravity instead of heading towards the city’s western part. Water was moving along this dyke towards disposal point and ending up in Khairpur Feeder East eventually.

“Such was impact of gushing waters that we were not able to start building this dyke. The level was over six-foot high and when a cut was given in Mir Wah, the level dropped to some extent”, Mir Jumani said.

People like Jumani were worried about reopening of KF East from the barrage which was closed by the authorities when heavy rains started in Sindh during July and August. “If this canal is opened for irrigation then where are we going to dispose stagnant water from the city?” quipped Jumani.

And perhaps he was not wrong outright.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2022

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