The disaster waiting in Sindh’s wings
An overview of the latest media reports indicates preventive measures are being taken to avert the floods that are expected in Sindh. River embankments have been strengthened and evacuation schemes have been executed lest any contingencies come forth. But prior to addressing the consequences of this natural disaster, it is important to consider the probability of its occurrence. It is vital to draw upon precedents of severe flooding in the region and their devastating outcomes.
Mansoor Raza’s essay, Disasters and Sindh offers insight into the multiple disasters that have plagued the province, including floods. It is here that he succinctly chronicles Sindh’s history with floods, adding however, that there is a dearth of statistical evidence for flood-related disasters that occurred in 1882, 1887, 1903, 1914, 1917, 1921, 1930 and 1948. This could potentially result in difficulties in finding precedents, however since the essay highlights the years in which extremely severe incidents of flooding was recorded in the region, we may use it as a basis for developing our analysis.
It is striking to note that some 400, 000 people were affected by the 1947 floods and nearly 259,586 acres of croplands were affected in eight districts, including Sukkur, Nawabshah, Larkana, Dadu and Thatta in 1973. Additionally, in the 1975 floods, 1.13 million people were affected and 1.7 acres of land destroyed. A more severe situation was witnessed when heavy rains triggered flood in 1976 which affected 28,260 villages in Sindh, displaced 3,276 people and claimed 99 lives. The livelihood of cattle farmer was impacted with the loss of 9,087 cattle. It is equally puzzling to note that similar events have come to pass in subsequent years. The ominous picture painted by these figures demonstrate that the province is prone to rapid-onset hazards such as flood, but this cannot serve to indicate that has happened in the past will happen again.
In order to alleviate the uncertainty surrounding the impending flood, it is best to draw upon the effects of global warming on the River Indus and its adjoining areas. Climate change is a force to reckon with particularly after a glacial melt threatened to generate a tidal wave through the Hunza Valley of the Himalayas in June 2010. It could have devastating ramifications as the Indus River is joined by the Panjnad River in Mithankot, Sindh, and, as a consequence, carries water from the Kabul River and the five rivers of Punjab. Therefore, the formidable risk of floods is ever-present.
More significantly, it is essential to understand that the ebb and flow of the Indus River is also determined by the seasons. Since the river is expected to flood its banks between July and September, the likelihood of flooding in Sindh is somewhat inevitable.
There is a consensus that since the Indus River carries water from several rivers when it flows through Sindh, the risk of contingencies can be high. However, we cannot overlook the fact that an inadequate provision of relief and the sheer reluctance of people to evacuate from their homes could potentially increase the extent of the resulting casualties and human losses. Thus it is necessary to enhance the risk perception of the populace so that they take logical decisions to vacate their properties in the event of such a calamity.
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