The flood that inundated Sindh beginning in the first week of August left hundreds of villages and scores of towns in 21 out of the 23 districts of the province flooded. Of these, 16 districts were completely inundated, and the remaining seven were affected by breaches and overflow in canals. In the language of disaster response, almost four million people in the province were rendered ‘vulnerable’, two million ‘extremely vulnerable’ and 700,000 homeless. It is estimated that around 10 million people will be affected in Sindh by the time the floodwater enters the Arabian Sea (see Pakistan Flood Relief page on himalmag.com for updates). By the time the floodwaters recede, around 40 percent of Sindh’s population of 40 million will have been affected either directly or indirectly. Hundreds of thousands of livestock, including cows, goats, sheep, camels and buffaloes – which provide the foundation of the rural economy and source of livelihood – are either dead or have fallen victim to disease. The rest are facing an acute shortage of fodder.
Meanwhile, the national, provincial and district disaster-management authorities have failed almost completely in Sindh. The army has played a role in rescuing stranded people, but has mostly concentrated on saving Pannu Aqil cantonment and other security installations.
According to Mushtaq Gadehi, an anthropologist from southern Punjab, the flood trauma started with the breach of the eastern marginal embankment in the upstream of Taunsa barrage. The breach caused the Indus to outflank the barrage, and the river carved out a new channel to the left of its original course. Shortly thereafter, floodwater flowing down this new channel found its way into the extensive network of irrigation canals on the left.
The floods, meanwhile, have triggered a domino effect, which will continue for years to come. The encroaching waters have uprooted the physical infrastructure developed over the past 60 years. The large-scale displacements have irrevocably changed the socio-economic fabric of Sindh. The rural economy has collapsed and will not recover for at least three years, and two decades’ worth of economic development has been reversed. Once the water recedes, the only long-term benefit that the province is expected to get is an increase in underground water levels and quality in subsoil and increased fertility in the currently flooded areas. But these possible benefits pale in the context of the calamity that has visited Sindh over August 2010.
~ Zulfiqar Shah is executive director of the Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan, in Hyderabad, Sindh.