The unbridled invitations to floods
By Shafiq Ahmad
departments, officials and feudal lords maximized the flood
disaster through the policy of allowing the deforestation in
the northern mountains and then, during the flood, diverting
the floodwaters in order to save their lands in the south.
Many people ask a simple
question: Were the rains in late July and early August too
much to cause high-level devastation in the country,
destroying about 25 per cent of crops and orchards, killing
over 1600 people, leaving 20 million homeless and making
another 3.5 million at high risk of deadly water-borne
Some people say the
disaster was a chastisement from the heaven to the nation
for its deeds, electing corrupt and incapable people to the
Others call it a natural
disaster, in which case there was no culpability.There is no
doubt that the rain was above average during this year’s
monsoon season. Clearly the devastation was accelerated
through the government’s poor management both at the Center
[in the U.S. context I’d say “federal” rather than center
but this may not be correct in the Pakistani context] as
well as the provincial governments of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,
Punjab and Sindh.
With proper management by
dedicated officials the death toll would have been much
lower and people’s property would not have been so flooded.
In the three main provinces where the mighty Indus River
flows, governmental departments, and their officials
maximized the disaster through the policy of allowing the
deforestation in the northern mountains and then, during the
flood, diverting the floodwaters in order to save their
lands in the south. These are the major factors that
determined the severity in the affected areas.
If we begin to analyze this “man-made” disaster from the
vantage point of the worst-hit mountainous Swat district of
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, once the “Switzerland” of
Pakistan and tourist hot-spot for its snow-peaked mountains,
forests, rivers and orchards, we see that today the jungle
is thin and the valley looks baldheaded. First, the Swat
Valley was the fiefdom of the Maulana Fazlullah-led Taliban.
In order to finance their
terrorist operation they cut down the thick jungle of Malam
Jabba. Today it is the timber mafia, who in connivance with
KP government officials, cut down the trees and pocket
billions of rupees every year. During the rein of the Awami
National Party-led government, the tall trees of Kalam,
Bahrain and Marghuzar have been removed, allowing the
floodwaters to flow with full force. If the Swat forest was
intact, the trees and plants would have slowed the water’s
flow, absorbing an enormous amount of water in the natural
cavities in their roots, which works like sponge.
There are different
regulations in two different forest regions of the KP. For
the Hazara region, comprising five districts, the people are
owners of their respective forests. However, they are not
allowed to cut the trees without the prior approval of the
governmental department. In lieu of this, people receive a
But for the Malakand region, comprising six districts,
people own 40 percent of the forest while the government
owns 60 percent. This arrangement strengthens the timber
mafia in these districts.
Witnesses say that there were uncountable logs in the
floodwaters. These worked like missiles when they hit the
bridges, houses and hotels alongside the Swat River with
full force. During the flood officials have concluded that
51 main bridges and over 100 link bridges were destroyed in
Swat valley alone.
The high flood in the upper
parts of KP caused damage to low-lying areas of Charsadda
and Nowshera districts, where the water levels in some
places rose more than 23feet.
Despite repeated attempts to contact KP Forest Minister
Wajid Ali Shah on his cell phone, he could not be reached to
interview about the state of deforestation in the Swat
Valley. Similarly the Punjab governmental department
concerned was also responsible for allowing deforestation,
thus adding to the misery of the people in the southern
parts of the province.
This correspondent visited
Taunsa Barrage on Indus Rive. From this point onward the
floodwaters hit Muzaffargarh very hard, and went on to play
havoc with people’s lives and property in Dera Ghazi Khan,
Layyah, Rajan Pur, Rahim Yar Khan and Sadiqabad districts.
Jamshed Dasti, a popular Pakistan People’s Party
parliamentarian, known in Muzaffargarah as Rescue 1122 for
his close contact with the public, revealed that powerful
men in the Punjab government illegally breached the Taunsa
Barrage and the Abbas Wala embankment in order to save their
The floodwaters were diverted
toward his district. He directly blamed the Punjab’s ruling
party elites – the Khosa, Hinjaran and Syed families for
diverting the floodwaters. Experts in water management
seconded his allegation against the Punjab’s Irrigation
Department and a few individuals.
Although the Punjab Chief
Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif visited all the flood-hit
districts in his helicopter in order to express his sympathy
with the people, he did not land at the Taunsa Barrage to
inspect the 25,000 acres of land belonging to the Irrigation
Department and illegally occupied by his close aides.
Jamshed Dasti queried: What prompt action did Sharif take
against the Irrigation Department officials posted at Taunsa
for their negligence? It took three days for the flood water
from Chashma Barrage to reach Taunsa Barrage.
There are about 25,000 acres of Irrigation Department land,
called “pound area,” on the Right Marginal Bond (RMB). To
save the Taunsa Barrage as well as the populated areas of
Muzaffargarh and Dera Ghazi Khan during a flood, the
Irrigation Department built pounds and spurs on the RMB to
mitigate the force of water flow. When the government
purchased this land, it allowed the previous owners to
cultivate it at their own risk. In case of flood, the water
was to be diverted to the pound area, and subsequently to
the Indus, to minimize damage.
However, the big landlords who cultivated cotton crops on
the Irrigation Department on the RMB lands also set up, on
the left embankment, a jungle for hunting deer and pigs in
their leisure time. This illegally erected left embankment
of Indus River also became a source of honey, and therefore
a productive area.
But with the connivance of Irrigation Department officials
who were posted at the barrage in early August, this area
was not flooded and the water entered Taunsa. The Abbas Wala
embankment was breached on the Left Marginal Bond (LMB) and
sent the floodwaters towards Muzaffargarh. Dasti showed this
Punjab Irrigation Secretary Malik Rab Nawaz, who denied the
voices of local people and Jamshed Dasti‘s allegation,
stated that “The floodwaters entered the main linked canal
between Indus River and Chanab River and it breached at 11
places, which inundated many villages in Muzaffargarh.”
However, he did admit corruption at some level in the
department, saying that might have played “a minor role” in
Ashraf Rind, a sub-contractor of Descon Company which has
redesigned Taunsa Barrage, pointed out that the barrage has
the capacity of holding one million cusecs of water and when
the flood hit Muzaffargarh, the water level in Indus River
was less than capacity. This means that the Irrigation
Department mishandled the water, most likely to save the
illegal lands of a few powerful individuals.
Mr. Rind, who was former nazim of Taunsa, further alleged
that the Irrigation Department will make a lot money in
awarding new contracts to repair damages at the barrage and
canal system throughout the province.
Interestingly, the Punjab government formed a committee to
probe the allegation against the Irrigation Department, but
during the investigation two senior officials, SDO and XEN,
who served at Taunsa for about five years, were transferred
and new officials were at the mercy of enquiry commission
The same is the case in the Sindh province, where powerful
figures from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party diverted
floodwaters to unprotected areas in a bid to save their
Former prime minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali was the
first to allege that the Sindh government diverted
floodwaters toward his land in order to save the Shahbaz
airbase being used by Americans in Jacobabad. Ironically,
the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad denied this charge, saying it
does not use the airbase.
Landowners in Sindh claim the Federal Sports Minister Ejaz
Jakharani diverted floodwaters to Jaffarabad and Nasirabad
districts in Balochistan by breaching the Jamali bypass.
Federal Labour Minister Khursheed Shah and Sindh Chief
Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah were also accused of using their
positions in order to save their lands. Khurshid Shah, a
minister from Sukkur, had reported an order for an
embankment to be cut in such a way that water could not be
diverted to the Thar Desert. But the Sindh chief minister
denied any such deliberate diversion.