Floods: When mountains melt

August 22, 2010


Reportedly 4.5 million people have been affected by heavy torrential rains since July 29 causing great floods, about one million people are homeless, hundreds drowned, several thousands stranded, crops and cattle destroyed, village located on the bank of rivers totally ruined and infrastructure completely damaged.

All major power grid stations, major transmission lines, power transformers and feeders have been swept away in the catastrophic flood. The damages are colossal. The loss is beyond imagination. Besides, there is a threat of epidemic diseases in the affected areas.

Floods are not uncommon in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Peshawar District Gazetteer 1931 informs us that the most disastrous flood occurred in 1858 when the Indus River rose 80 feet above the lowest level at Attock. This resulted in the reversal current of the Kabul River, flooding Nowshera and causing immense damages to the life and property. Floods also occurred in August 1929 when a glacier dam built on a tributary of Indus burst and devastated the land. The same year heavy monsoon rains caused high floods in the Nowshera area. The recent flood came after a hundred years and is an addition in the history of disasters of the province.

There is a good river system in the province for power generation and irrigation. Indus is the major river which flows swiftly across Hazara region and at Tarbela a dam has been built on it. It receives river Landai at Attock and flows southwards to Dera Ismail Khan. The Kabul River enters Peshawar at Warsak where a dam has been built on it. The river flows downward and divides into two branches Adezai to the north and Nagoman to the south. The Nagoman throws off further branches called Shahalam, Sardaryab and Budnai. After flowing separately these rivers again join to form river Kabul. The Swat River comes from Swat Kohistan or Kalam and joins river Panjkora from the north and flows down to Peshawar valley where it divides into two main branches Jindai or Abazai River in the east and Khiali at the west. Near the village of Prang in district Charsadda these unite again and falls into the Adazai River. The Swat and Kabul River join near Nisatta (Charsadda) and is known as Landai (short river) which meets Indus at Attock. Kalpani River rises south of Swat and joins river Kabul near Nowshera.

Due to successive spells of monsoon rains these rivers became swollen, inundating about 16 districts, causing heavy destruction. The district of Shangla received great damage. Kalam and Behrain have been isolated from Swat while Mingora and other areas of Swat are separated from the rest of the province. Lower and upper Dir received massive destruction. Charsadda, Pabi and Nowshera were swept away by flood in the Kabul River.

The residents of these areas found the Motorway a safe place and rushed there. They spent their days and nights without shelter, food and drinking water. The Bannu area was devastated by the flood in the Kurrum River while Dera Ismail Khan was ruined by the mighty Indus. Due to rain water and land slides, the Mansehra-Kaghan road was closed and the visitors were trapped in the Naran Valley. Also river Kunhar was in flood affecting district Mansehra. The key water reservoirs Tarbela and Warsak dams were filled up to the peaks, leaving the authorities with no alternative but to discharge additional, incoming water downstream, further aggravating the situation.

It is a natural catastrophe, a national tragedy. According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) the total damages are estimated to be $964.192 million. Rescue of the stranded people is top priority while the rehabilitation of the affected people and construction of houses would require some time and Rs. 6.5 billion would be required for construction of houses. However, it appears that the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is alone in coping with this menace. So far no organisation or international community has come forward to help the province in this hour of trial. Resources of the province are not sufficient to fully control the situation. The provincial government is therefore, left with no option but to freeze all its developmental funds, suspend developmental projects and divert the allocated funds to relief work.