Monday, September 13, 2010

Pakistan floods: An anatomy of the Indus

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt in ABC News (Australia): … It was not just the rains that bear the full responsibility for the enormity of the floods in Indus valley. Rivers are essentially channels to drain out water. Being one of the largest rivers of the world, Indus should have been able to carry out the excess waters into the sea. Why couldn't the river flush out the excess waters? This is where human intervention - in terms of poor water resource planning and infrastructure development - played an important role in exacerbating the floods. To increase the area under irrigation, in recent decades more and more waters of the Indus River have been diverted into nearby farms. Many of these farms are owned by the richer farmers who have, with state support and over the years, built levees or embankments along the river to protect their farms from the occasional floods. These water infrastructures hold the key to understanding the mechanics of the Indus floods.

…In the last few decades, however, the water and irrigation infrastructures over the Indus have increased in size and numbers, in an effort to contain the rain waters from where they rush down the hill slopes to 'protect' the habitations and farming lands located on the Indus plains. Indeed over two thirds of the Indus flow is diverted for irrigation. A number of tributaries, for example, join the Indus from the west. These are fast-flowing hill torrents that bring down huge quantities of silt during the monsoons. With funding from external development agencies, a series of barrages have been built along the hill slopes to prevent their waters reaching the Indus. Many of these barrages added waters to the already inflated Indus and contributed to further worsening of the flood situation.

What we see is that technology-based interventions do not affect the rich and the poor in the same way. The barrages certainly benefit the richer farmers who own the farming lands and who now harvest more than one crop. But when they fail, as they did in this year, these very barrages can plunge innumerable people's lives into utter distress. The political ecology of the water infrastructure is such that those who benefit from them are usually not those who suffer from the floods….

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