Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Flood havoc in Pakistan

The mythologies are abuzz with stories of deluges – these are the floods sent by the Deity to destroy civilization as an act of divine retribution. Floods have always been the scourge of civilizations destroying property and killing people in large numbers. Floods are overflow of an expanse of water, occurring when flow exceeds the capacity.

Neighbouring Pakistan is suffering badly from floods. On 29th July the floods were triggered by heavy monsoon rains in north-west Pakistan causing rivers to breach their banks, villages of mud brick houses were destroyed. UN has described this flood as the worst in living memory. According to initial estimates of UN 14 million people were affected and lakhs of homes have been destroyed. There is further not so good news with the Pak Met Dept forecasting that River Indus going by hydrological condition is likely to attain a medium to high flood level ranging between 350,000 to 470,000 (cusecs) from 18.08.2010 to 19.08.2010. This could inundate low lying areas of District Hyderabad, Thatta and adjoining areas alongside river bed.
The river Indus is a major river which flows through the Indian sub continent. It originates in the Tibetan plateau near Lake Mansarovar runs through Ladakh district of Jammu & Kashmir and enters Gilgit Baltistan flowing through North in Pakistan to enter Arabian sea near the port of Karachi in Sind. It is the longest river of Pakistan. Indus feeds the eco system of the forests, plains and countryside and has Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and two more tributaries from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Agfhan. Where it flows in to Arabian sea, it has the Indus river delta which unlike other delta consists of clay and other infertile soils and is very swampy. The Pak city of Hyderabad lies about 130 miles north of the moutn of Indus.
BBC’s Satellite images show how the Pakistan flood waters have swollen the lower Indus River, completely filling the river valley, when compared with images of the same area one year before. The flow through the Sukkur Barrage has reached levels of 1.4m cubic feet per second (cusecs). The barrage is only designed to withstand a maximum of 0.9m cusecs.

The floods in Pakistan which has become a monumental disaster began following heavy monsoon rains – the worst affected areas being Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab and parts of Baluchistan. Around 200o people are feared dead. This is reported to be one of the worst flood of the Region in 80 years and feared might get worse as it midway through monsoon season. 1.4m acres of crop land has been flooded killing ten thousands of cattle. BBC further reports that along 1200 km stretch of River Indus in Sindh province, Govt. has evacuated one million people and is evacuating more. The prediction of more downpour by the Pak Met dept is added source of worry.

Meantime, Europe’s "water satellite" has provided a different perspective on the floods in Pakistan. The Smos spacecraft senses the wetness of soils, and its unique instrument has detailed how the earth became saturated in the monsoon rains. Data from satellite has been processed into making a series of maps which shows that the ground is getting progressively wetter, indicated by the shift from warmer (yellow/orange) to cooler (blue/grey) colours. The consistent blue in the south reflects the naturally wetter landscape that surrounds the Indus River where it enters the Arabian Sea. Satellite data is frequently used in the relief response to major disasters and would help in disaster mitigation.
                                                                  marooned livestock
As is the case in many a countries, years of river mismanagement is also an added cause for the massive floods. To Pakistan, Indus river is lifeline, people have expanded the canal system to cater to the needs of the ever increasing population by diverting the river flow wherever it is needed to support agriculture. When humans sculpt newer paths for farming and other needs, there are fewer floods but when it comes they are worser. When consistently exploited, river channels have smaller areas to absorb the rain fall. The traditional wetlands along river course would generally take up some flood waters but in modern world they too are converted to farmlands. 
Apart from the deaths of people and cattle, extensive damage to infrastructure and crops have significantly harmed the economy of the Nation.
                                                              washed away bridge at bannu
The recent meeting between Indian and Pak Govt officials at Islamabad on July 15 ended on an acrimonious note. Since then there were only exchange of condolence messages after train accident in India and air crash in Islamabad. India offered assistance of $5 M in relief material for the victims of floods. Going by the sensitivity in the relationship, it is anybody’s guess as to how the Pak Govt would respond to this offer.

Regards – Sampathkumar S

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