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The unbridled invitations to floods in Pakistan
By  Shafiq Ahmad


The unbridled invitations to floods in Pakistan:-Pakissan.comGovernmental 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 diseases?

Some people say the disaster was a chastisement from the heaven to the nation for its deeds, electing corrupt and incapable people to the parliament.

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.

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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 “Guzara Allowance.”

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 fields.

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.

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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 breach.

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 the devastation.

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 grilling.

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 land.

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.
 

September, 2013

Source:  View Point

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