AN AERIAL view of Gwadar shows the widespread inundation of areas along the expressway.—Photo by the writer

Footprints: Water, water everywhere…

Gwadar still lacks a storm-water drainage system, despite being touted as the crown jewel of the billion-dollar CPEC.
Published March 4, 2024

ALMOST a week after a torrential spell of rain wreaked havoc in Gwadar, streets and neighbourhoods are still inundated, with residents left to fend for themselves.

The situation was no different in 2008 and 2010, when similar spells submerged the city, which still lacks a storm-water drainage system, despite being touted as the crown jewel of the billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

A decade and a half after those deluges, the people still have to face the same ordeal, as heavy rains have inundated homes, streets and roads, leaving the city in shambles.

Every corner of the metropolis reverberates with the sounds of generators being used to pump water out of homes or streets, and crowds of people milling about, more than willing to lend a helping hand in the absence of state machinery.

In parts where generators are not available, bowsers and water tankers are being used to de-water areas. Out of desperation, people have been forced to make cuts in roads and demolish walls to drain rainwater.

According to an estimate, more than half of all residences in the port city have suffered some form of damage, either due to rainfall or because of floodwaters entering tightly packed neighbourhoods with little to no drainage. The inundation of the port city at regular intervals has raised questions about the development model of Gwadar, with residents asking whether the uplift projects that turned a small fishing village into a global seaport even considered the welfare of its citizens.

This is not the first calamity for the people of Gwadar; it has had to face everything from droughts to flooding and terrorism.

Recently, the port city was in the headlines because of widespread protests by the Haq Do Tehreek led by Hidayatur Rehman, which faced a police crackdown.

For the residents of Gwadar, the construction of infrastructure sans welfare has only amplified their concerns. They ask why welfare projects, such as potable water, a drainage system and a road network, were ignored when the port project started in 2003.

Old city in shambles

The native population of the city already lives in impoverished neighbourhoods, which have been further destroyed by the deluge. The streets and roads in these areas have been dug up with heavy machinery to de-water the flooded streets. In the inner city, several roads and streets cannot be traversed due to damage, and almost all markets have been closed for a week.

Speaking to Dawn, Mujahid Ward resident Noor said five rooms in his house had been destroyed due to rainwater. “For the past six days, we have been getting water out of my house and the neighbourhood,” the retired teacher said, blaming the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) for the disaster.

According to Noor, rainfall is a blessing for all, but the GDA has turned this blessing into an ordeal. “Despite spending billions of rupees, the entire city is inundated,” he added.

Noor says that such torrential spells are not new for residents of the port city, recalling how in 1985, after a similarly heavy deluge, the water flowed into the sea without damaging any houses or neighbourhoods. Hakim Qasim also blames the GDA’s subpar performance, alleging that the development authority was responsible for the flooding of the city.

Bukshi Colony resident Akbar Taj Muhammad’s house has been underwater for the past seven days, leaving him no option but to relocate his family. Taj has also been left to his own devices, with no one from the government lending any help.

He said that he did not need edible items, rather the swift drainage of rainwater to save his house, which he only managed to construct after years of hard work. “I will not be able to build a new house if this one crumbles after staying submerged for six days,” he feared.

On the other hand, Pir Jan is sheltering in a nearby seminary after losing his house to the torrential rain. He is now searching for a place to rent. Mir Nadeem Dashti, who arrived in Bukshi Colony to help its residents, said they had been working to drain the area non-stop. He said that more than 100 houses had been under four feet of water and that they had installed a 1,300-feet pipe to drain the area using tankers and generators.

Seeking empathy

After newly minted Balochistan Chief Minister Sarfraz Bugti paid a much-publicised visit to the area, locals Farid and Akbar opined that he should have visited the submerged localities instead of going to some specific sites. “Maybe then he could have empathised with us after looking at our houses, which have been underwater for almost a week.”

Gwadar’s Rural Community Development Council head Nasir Rahim Sohrabi said the lack of a drainage system in the port city had only exacerbated fiscal losses. He said the GDA should have prepared itself in light of the 2008 and 2010 disasters, but 14 years on, the city remains without a drainage system.

GDA Chief Engineer Haji Syed Muhammad, however, claimed that Rs3.5 billion had been earmarked for drainage projects in Gwadar.

He said that the recent construction of an open drain along the Expressway played a key role in rainwater drainage, adding that more projects were in the pipeline, which would resolve the issue once and for all.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2024

Header image: An aerial view of Gwadar shows the widespread inundation of areas along the expressway.—Photo by the writer