Horrified by the catastrophe unleashed by the recent monsoon rains, people of the flood-affected areas want an immediate solution to Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD), which they hold responsible for their predicament.
The damage caused by the saline water channel, rather than its benefits, was the topic of discussion at a seminar organised by Oxfam and Laar Humanitarian Development Programme (LHDP) on Monday.
The out fall drain begins from Ghotki and ends at the Arabian Sea via Badin district. During the monsoon rains in August and September, it overflowed in parts of Shaheed Benazirabad, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Badin districts, affecting over eight million people and destroying millions of acres of crops.
According to an anti-LBOD activist, Prof. Ismail Kumbhar, the artificial control of natural water has only spelled disaster. “The water used to flow through hundreds of creeks before it discharged into the sea,” he said. “The attempt to have only a single outlet to the sea, a 42-kilometre Tidal Link, was destined to fail.”
The mighty drain started functioning in 1996, but the Choleri Weir – a regulator to control the backflow of the water at Tidal Link, the last part of the drain which meets the sea, was ripped apart when a cyclone struck in 1999. Sea water began to flow back into the fertile land since then and led to the extinction of many species of flora and fauna.
Fateh Notkani, a resident of Luari Sharif in Badin district, said he has yet to observe a single advantage of the drain for the people. “You claimed that you built a marvel when Choleri Weir was finished. It will push back the sea,” he referred to the claims of Water and Power Development Authority and the foreign financers of the project. “Now come and show us where it is?” Muhammad Yousuf Bajeer, a resident of Kadhan in Badin, called attention towards the contamination of drinking water, as fresh water mixed with the saline water from the drain. Loss of cultivable land created resentment against the LBOD during the last decade, but unfortunately, the recent floods exacerbated the problem. Bajeer predicted that the local aquifers in a lot of villages in Badin will be contaminated by the saline water.
A resident of Jhuddo in Mirpurkhas district, Ahmed Ali Jamali, pointed out that the people who lost their homes, land, livestock and livelihood because of the LBOD since 1999, have yet to be compensated.
The environmental consultant from the firm hired by the Sindh Irrigation Development Authority (SIDA), to carry out a five-year study on redesigning the LBOD, also agreed with the residents.
Muhammad Saleh Soomro, himself a resident of Badin, said that the very concept of controlling tidewater by a regulator like Choleri Weir was a mistake. “Even the foreign engineers could not rebuild the weir after it broke in 1999.” He said that the experts are studying options to revive the historic flow of the water. The National Institute of Oceanography in Karachi will approve the plan to redesign the LBOD before its implementation starts after 2013, said Soomro.
SIDA’s managing director, Ehsan Laghari, told the audience about the short-term measures planned by the government to prepare for the monsoon in 2012. “The government will cut off the choked part of LBOD, remove encroachments from its route and revive some of the historic waterways like Dhoro Puran in Mirpurkhas.” They will be implemented in the coming months, he said. But he also emphasised on the need for swift lawmaking to remove encroachments that obstruct the natural flow of water.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2011.