Survivors, not killers

The site of a suicide bombing in the town of Lakki Marwat that claimed 19 lives. PHOTO: REUTERS

Pakistan is a brave nation. It takes a lot of guts for a people to continue on after a year that can only be called the year of death: 8,000 people have died in Pakistan this year –devastating floods, a dumbfounding air crash, deplorable target killings and decimatingsuicide bombings. And the year hasn’t even ended yet.

Those from northern Pakistan have had it the worst. The year opened with a deadly blast that killed 94 people who had gathered to watch a volleyball match in Lakki Marwat in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, quashing all hopes that Pakistanis had had that this year may not be like last year.

Little had we known that even nature hadn’t had enough with our patience and would, this year, bare it all for us. It was as if the water let loose its entire wrath on Charsadda and Nowshera districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. A large number of people, who had been displaced by the army operation in tribal areas, had barely made it back home when their fragile homes were washed away by these torrential waters.

Yet, the area seems to have received the least of attention by the media. Apart from being quickly knocked off the pages, the only coverage that the floods in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa did receive was tainted in the same colour as every other news coming from that region. It is upsetting that even the plight of the flood survivors was seen through the lens of terrorism and militancy. Before their lives were even secure, the young men among the flood survivors of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were a threat to the life and security of others.

International, and national, media had a field day explaining that banned religious charityorganisation Jamaatud Dawa, which is suspected to have links with militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, had jumped in with assistance for flood survivors while the government and the army made their way up. Alarm bells started ringing: Jamaatud Dawa is looking at a large number of recruits. The focus then shifted to a competition of sorts that had developed between the US and religious charities.

As a Pakistani, I am thankful for all and any help that we received in the aftermath of the floods. But assistance must come with acknowledgement – of our plight and pain. Of our spirit and resilience.

More towns in line of water

Survivors use part of a damaged railway track to cross over in a village near Sukkur. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: A flood warning was issued on Tuesday for the town of Chohar Jamali in Thatta district, which is in direct line of the waters of River Indus.

Pressure has increased on the Munarki dyke, where water had been flowing from the breach in Kot Aalmoon dyke. Water, heading towards the town of Chohar Jamali, is now flowing on both sides of the Munarki dyke. According to officials, the town has a 90 per cent chance of flooding. Water is also flowing into the Ghulam Shah Sim nullah and there is a 50 per cent chance of the nullah overflowing and flooding the town of Jati.

“We are making efforts to save the two towns which have a combined population of more than 100,000,” senior city official Hadi Bakhsh Kalhoro said, adding that most people had already left for safer spots. In Sujawal city, as many as 200 to 250 people were still sitting on the roofs of their houses and refused to leave, fearing what would happen to their homes and belongings if they left. Some locals said by telephone that massive looting had begun in the city. Imposters posing as refugees were removing items from homes that had been evacuated, they said.

More people returned to Thatta on Tuesday as the town was declared safe and the Faqir Jo Goth dyke was completely plugged.

MNA Ayaz Ali Shah Sheerazi, who holds the seat from the area and represents opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), has accused the DCO and the Pakistan Peoples Party-led administration of Thatta of deliberately flooding Sujawal to save Thatta. “Since I am part of the Opposition, they breached the Kot Aalmoon dyke (that flooded Sujawal) and have not plugged it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said that the situation was under control. Addressing a press conference in the Sindh Secretariat’s building, he said that they had plugged the breach near Thatta and the city was no longer under threat. “I appeal to the people sitting in Makli to return home,” he said.

(With reporting by Junaid Khanzada in Thatta, Hafeez Tunio in Karachi and input from AFP)

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2010.

Gilani issues SOS as floods reach Sindh

A child sits on naturally-elevated ground after flash floods struck the village of Durrani Maher, some 92 kilometres from Sukkur on Friday. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Friday appealed for immediate international help as floods continued to wreak havoc upon southern Punjab and northern Sindh.

“Pakistan has been hit by the worst floods in its history. I ask the international community to support and help Pakistan alleviate the sufferings of the flood-affected people,” Gilani said in a televised address to the nation

“We are passing through very critical times but courageous nations face such difficulties with strong will and determination,” Gilani said, adding that floods were engulfing new areas even as he spoke. “The loss of human lives and infrastructure has been colossal and real assessment of damages can only be done when the water recedes.”

Earlier, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairperson General (retd) Nadeem Ahmed attempted to capture the scale of the disaster, saying the floods were a much greater disaster than the 2005 earthquake. “In 2005, only 30,000 square kilometres of area was affected but in this case, 132,000 square kilometres have been affected in just Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. The total population affected by the earthquake was 3.2 million but the floods have affected 12 million people in the two provinces,” he said.

Sindh

The discharge at the Guddu Barrage was 962,000 cusecs, while the water level at Sukkur Barrage was constantly rising on Friday.

At the Sukkur Barrage, an inflow of 720,000 cusecs was recorded on Friday evening, while downstream discharge was 696,000 cusecs. However, all vulnerable embankment walls  remained intact, sustaining tremendous pressure.

According to reports from Kashmore and Ghotki districts, almost the entire katcha area was flooded on Friday and 90 per cent of the residents were moved to safer places. Army, navy and rangers personnel evacuated 15,000 people. In Sukkur, most residents of Katcha Bunder moved into a relief camp. According to the relief camp’s managers, 100 families comprising 875 people were registered on Friday and were provided food and medicines. Others have moved outside the Bunder wall and are living in make-shift homes.

Meanwhile, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo, federal Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and federal Minister for Labour and Manpower Khursheed Ahmed Shah visited the Sukkur Barrage where they were briefed about the flood situation.

Federal Minister Water and Power Raja Pervaiz Ashraf told reporters at the barrage that the government’s timely efforts had saved the Kot Addu and Guddu power plants, adding that they were still functioning. He said that the government’s top priority was to evacuate marooned people who had lost their houses, cattle and other possessions.

Punjab

A flood spell in River Chenab is expected to hit Multan on Saturday and authorities have decided to break down the eastern dike of the Muzaffargarh Link Canal. The move is likely to save the Parco oil refinery but it will submerge more than 13 villages around Mehmood Kot.

The union council of Rajanpur was completely submerged on Friday while 6,000 small towns in Rahim Yar Khan were inundated, irrigation department authorities said.

DCO Dr Ahmed Javed Qazi said that at least 1,500 people were busy in relief operations. The flood also hit the Lal Pir thermal power station and the Kapco thermal power station.

A flood torrent of 1.1 millioncusecs from River Indus was heading towards Muzaffargarh where rescue and evacuation operation had begun, Rescue 1122 sources said.

Roads links have been disrupted in Kot Addu, Daira Din Panah, Ihsanpur and other villages where people are facing acute shortages of food. Railway channels have also been submerged and more than 10,000 people were stranded in Kot Addu and Muzzafargarh. Heavy rains were continuing in the region which is hampering rescue operations.

(With reporting by Sarafaraz Memon in Sukkur and Owais Jaffery in southern Punjab)

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2010.

Water levels normalise as displaced people return home

Flood survivors ride a donkey cart as they evacuate in Punjab. PHOTO: AFP

The worst seems to be over for Punjab and water level readings taken at major points, rivers and barrages are at normal levels.

The water level at the Taunsa Barrage has fallen to 0.614 million cusecs, which is 0.1 million cusecs over the usual levels of River Indus. At Kalabagh, the reading was 0.474 million cusecs. However, the water level at the Chashma Barrage was recorded at 0.575 million cusecs and the situation is alarming as the level has not decreased. According to irrigation sources, the level should be less than 0.5 million cusecs but it hasn’t gone down because water from both Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s rivers and River Jhelum is accumulating at this point.

Repatriation has also begun in Punjab. Those displaced from Daira Deen Panah, where a dyke had burst and floods had caused massive devastation, returned on Monday. As many as 0.5 million have gone back to the area and an equal number of people have returned to Muzzaffargarh and Kot Addu. The Kot Addu Power Company’s (Kapco) plant has resumed production, which will reduce the daily electricity shortfall in Pakistan by 1,200 MW.

However, all is not normal in the province. Water is now flowing near the town of Khangarh and to secure the area, the flood is being drained into the Chenab River where water level is at 0.31 million cusecs. In Dera Ghazi Khan district, the Punjab government has sent just 4,000tents for the 150,000 displaced people.

The National Highway, which is known as KLP and connects Punjab and Sindh, is closed for traffic from Rahim Yar Khan, one of the worst-hit and most threatened districts. The Rainy Canal, also known as the Thar Canal, has overflowed and flooded seven to eight villages, displaced 140,000 people and devastating 200,000 acres of agricultural land.

In Rajanpur, the Qadra Canal has developed cracks at three points. This dyke is also known as the defence head, and if it bursts, the entire area of Rajanpur will be flooded. Due to the cracks, Head Gopang is under immense pressure and the administration has imposed Section 144 in the area as they try to repair the canal.

At the same time, malaria and gastroenteritis have affected as many as 6,000 to 8,000 people in the flood-hit districts. (With reporting by Owais Jaffery in Multan)

Published in The Express Tribune, August 07th, 2010.

US announces $25m for flood relief

Volunteers with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society hand relief supplies to a flood victim Charsadda. PHOTO: REUTERS

The United States on Thursday announced a new contribution of $25 million assistance to Pakistan’s flood affected people.

This brings the United States’ total commitment to date to more than $35 million. The money will be provided by USAID to international organisations and established Pakistani NGOs to provide food, health care, shelter for those displaced by floods.

The number of people hit by floods in generations has risen to four million, according to UN estimates and UNHCR revealed that over 1400 people have died.

So far more than 75,000 stranded people have been evacuated and moved to safer places, said an ISPR release on Thursday.

Sixty additional life saving boats have been transported from Lahore to Multan and Sukkur for evacuation and rescue activities.

In Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, 18 helicopters are busy in distributing rations and evacuating the marooned people from Kalam.

To date 3,000 tourists have been evacuated from Kalam. So far 30,000 cooked food packets have been distributed among the affectees of Charsadah, 33,601 in Nowshera and 28,920 food packets and 2000 water bottles have been distributed at Upper Swat.

Eight trucks of 25 tons of rations each have reached Tarbela Ghazi for further distribution among the affected people, while army Engineers are busy in making temporary bridges on River Swat to facilitate the transportation.

People stranded at inaccessible places are being provided food through Helicopters and even Animal transport is also being employed.

Over 2000 Pakistan Army officers and Jawans have so far shifted over 100,000 men, women and children to safer places with the help of five helicopters and 130 boats from flood-hit areas of South Punjab said another ISPR release.

Punjab floods

Thousands of people are still trapped as water level is continuously on the rise in Kot Addu. The army is engaged in relief efforts but some people are also leaving the affected places on their own.

About 160,000 wheat bags were  soaked in the deluge at Pasco Centre. This came as a breach in Muzaffargarh canal in the Mehmood Kot, Ganji Wala Bridge and Basirwala areas.

Gujrat district in Muzaffargarh will remain under threat until the breach is not repaired. Lal Pir Thermal Power Plant, Pak-Arab Refinery Corporation and Oil Depot can also be affected.

In Rajanpur, people in the area are still waiting for relief as upto 40,000 cusecs of water has affected the district.

The worst affected area of Rajanpur is Jampur tehsil where half of the city has been submerged. At least 1400 police officials are busy in helping the flood victims in the tehsil.

Meanwhile, Dajil city is under threat as holes have appeared in four areas of the lake adjoining it. Rujhan dike also collapsed on Wednesday which has posed an additional threat to the city. Kot Mithan is also being steadily inundated.

Sindh

The District administration has given last warning to the people who are are not evacuating their homes near the banks of the Indus River.

Increasing water levels are exerting pressure on dykes near Kandhkot but the Sindh government has announced that all protective embankments are safe in the province.

Water flow in Guddu barrage is more than 700,000  cusecs while in Sukkur barrage water flow is more than 300,000  cusecs. About five feet long breach has appeared in Qazi Canal near Pannu Aaqil.

Khyber-Pakhtunkwa

According to the Flood Warning Cell, there is a mid-level flood in river Kabul, with water flow at 170,000 cusecs in the areas of Nowshera and Udezai.

Relief items including clothes, edibles and drinking water worth millions of rupees have reached Peshawar.

Floods have destroyed as many as 568 villages, 200 roads, 92 bridges, 85 education institutes, 32 health centres, five grid stations and government offices.

More than 30,000 people had to be uplifted through helicopters and fourteen thousand, five hundred and fifty three families have been accommodated in camps.

Balochistan rains

Heavy rain spell continues in district Jafferabad and Naseerabad of Balochistan for the third consecutive day.

Rains have also started in district Loralai, Duki, Nana Sahab, Ziarat and Luni. About 70 feet wide breach has appeared  in the Ouch canal in Jafferabad district. Many areas have also been inundated.

Deaths are also being reported in rain related accidents. A woman and a child were killed when the roof of their house caved in due to heavy downpour in Sohbatpur .

Updated from print edition (below)

Water continues to wash away villages in its trail

An initial surge of flood water inundated Punjab on Wednesday, breaking 10 embankments and flooding hundreds of villages across the province.

More than 400,000 people were affected in Taunsa and Dera Ghazi Khan when as many as 160 villages were inundated. About 200,000 people had to seek refuge in mounds and schools and there are warnings that the DG Canal Link No 1 and RDA 138 and 139 might break. The canal has already broken from points 198 to 210.

Flood water caused an embankment of Muzzaffargarh Dam to break causing flooding in Kot Addu where people were evacuating on a self-help basis. The surge is now expected to arrive at Nishtar Ghat in Rajanpur, creating a serious threat for Mithan Koth, Rojhan, Kotla Mughlan and Umar Kot where protective dams are being strengthened.

In Rajanpur, 150 villages were submerged and hundreds of people are besieged in water as relief work is hampered by rain.

Sindh

Sukkur DCO Inamullah Dharejo said on Wednesday that Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and district government officials had set up permanent camps in Sukkur to cope with the flood situation. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) was the focal agency for coordination and they had established a 24-hour control room.

Dharejo said that they were coordinating with the armed forces and they had also prepared their own support system. The Sindh government has put 155 boats and 50 dewatering sets at the Pakistan Army’s disposal, he said.

Responding to a question, the DCO said that until Wednesday, up to 80 per cent evacuation had been carried out from the katcha areas. “Those living in areas outside protective bunds near the river belt should also be on alert,” he said.

Meanwhile, 164 medical camps have been established in districts that are under threat of flooding.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said on Wednesday that funds provided to the provincial government for reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas were insufficient.

“While allocating funds, the government should be mindful of the fact that 95 per cent of flood damage had been suffered by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and only five per cent was suffered by other provinces,” he said.

Hussain asked the people not to listen to ‘rumours’ and wait until government announcements. “The death toll registered with us is 797 while 790 are injured. More than 700,000 people have been rendered homeless, while 568 villages were washed away by raging torrents, affecting more than 500,000 families,” he said.

Speaking about damage to the province’s infrastructure, he said that 200 roads, 92 bridges, 85 educational institutions, 32 health centres, 32 irrigation schemes, 11 government buildings and five grid stations had been destroyed. Meanwhile, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said on Wednesday that the flow of rivers in the province was declining. (With reporting by Manzoor Ali in Peshawar)

Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2010.