Sabotage feared in canal rupture as villages flooded

9 villages near Ubauro are floating in four-foot-deep water as the RD-64 Canal developed a breach early on Monday.



Nine villages near Ubauro are floating in four-foot-deep water as the RD-64 Canal developed a breach early Monday believed to have been deliberately caused in a tribal feud.

The Ghotki Feeder developed a 100-feet-wide breach but before residents could repair it, nine villages - Anwar Khosh, Afzal Khosh, Islam Din Solangi, Fatehpur, Gullu Solangi, Dino Solangi, Wali Mohammad, Nenhro and Ali Nawaz - were submerged.

According to residents, they rushed after the embankment collapsed at 4 am. They struggled for over seven hours and then managed to stem the water flow. A resident complained that even though they called the irrigation department as soon as water started overflowing, the authorities did not come until after 9 am. He claimed that they suffered huge material and financial losses.

“More than 10 villages have submerged and all our crops have washed away,” a resident Imam Buksh Khosh told The Express Tribune, as he named all the villages of his tribe and a few inhabited by the Solangis, their rival tribe in District Ghotki.

Kosh estimated that the damaged area spans between 300 and 400 acres, affecting more than 500 people. “Our cotton, rice and other crops have been damaged completely,” he said, insisting that even the media cannot estimate the losses.

SDO Irrigation Muhammad Moosa told The Express Tribune that the possibility of a tribal conspiracy cannot be ruled out as the Koshs and Solangis have been fighting for several years. The clashes worsened when the leader of the Solangi tribe was killed recently. Since then, as many as 85 people have lost their lives.

Moosa denied that there were any lasting damages, insisting that only ‘one, two, or maybe 20 houses’ were flooded. “We have everything under control now,” he said, adding that flooding took place in sparsely populated areas.

He explained that the canal, lined with mud, developed a breach at 1 am and the department officials reached the site within an hour. “What the irrigation department did is that we went to the regulator, or what we call the ‘water gate’, and decreased the flow,” Moosa said. “When the water became manageable, we fixed the leak.”

Moosa pointed out, however, that the entire time they were fixing the breach, members of both the Khosh and Solangi tribes were engaged in crossfire.

“The firing sessions lasted at least two hours and we were stuck in the middle,” said Moosa, adding that they had to tell the tribal elders several times to stop the firing.

“The tribes were not attacking us directly but we were in the middle when they shot at each other,” Moosa explained, refusing to affix the blame to any one side. “They are fighting among themselves so we don’t know who was potentially involved in creating the breach.”

The irrigation department’s engineer, Irshad Memon, was sure that one of the two tribes cut the canal and said that they are trying to find out who the real culprits were. He denied, however, that the breach was 100 feet wide. “The breach was only 20-foot-wide and we fixed it immediately,” he said.

Imam Buksh Khosh was hesitant to blame the Solangis for the breach, saying that he ‘cannot comment on what they do’. “It will be stupid to blame the Khosh because otherwise our villages would not have been flooded.”

Water levels in the villages remained four-feet deep until late Monday as residents waited for the irrigation department to provide water-pumping motors or hand pumps.

“There is still too much water in our homes and the stock of rations, warm clothes and livestock has been washed away,” Khosh said. The irrigation department has made no promises to get rid of the water, he said miserably.

According to Khosh, the Ghotki Feeder developed a similar breach two years ago but at a different spot. The breach affected the same villages and the irrigation authorities fixed it.

Published in  The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2010.

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