By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal
Ongoing waves of overwhelming floods are an equivalent of economic and environmental WMD. These water bombs have caused tremendous devastation all across Pakistan. Rivers and creeks overflowed, inundating the large chunks of land in Gilgit-Baltistan, Kashmir, Khyber-Pakhtunkhaw, swamping villages and towns in Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan. It is indeed a national tragedy, both magnitude as well as expanse wise.
This has created an acute emergency for the people of Pakistan who were least prepared to deal with such an extraordinary challenge. Search and rescue operations took a long time to pickup requisite tempo. Long spell of torrential rains further added to the misery of displaced and stranded people because reaching out to the unfortunate sufferers became slow and sluggish.
Monsoons are generally a water surplus period in Pakistan. Occasionally, this uncontrolled water causes devastation on a large scale. Such floods cause an enormous socio-economic disruption. Existing infrastructure is destroyed or damaged, needing massive resources for repair and rebuilding. Human aspect of the tragedy is also quite significant. A large chunk of population is displaced from their inundated house, warranting the launch of mammoth relief and rehabilitation effort. Standing crops are washed away, and rural population is deprived of their modest shelters. Waterborne diseases bring added melancholy to the displaced people. Effects of each such flood are felt for years to come.
With political prudence and societal pressure, adequate preventive measures can be instituted to turn the recurring crises of floods into an economic opportunity.
Only a short while before these floods, the Indus River System Authority (IRSA), our national agency responsible for equitable distribution of water amongst the federating units, faced a virtual deadlock while adjucating the share of scarce water for the provinces.
Hence, the issue we face is neither of water shortage nor of water surplus; it is indeed a matter of water management (read mismanagement). There is huge gap between the availability of quantum of water during shortage and surplus periods. Time span wise, these spell are apart only by four to six weeks. Moreover, once the uncontrolled water is wasted into Arabian Sea, the country returns back to the status of water scarcity.
If this surplus flood water could be reigned in, it can offset the water scarcity during substantial portion of each year. Effects of ongoing flood could have been mitigated to a large extent, had we built adequate rain/flood water storage facilities.
Water stored during such surge flooding could be used for supplementing water supplies during the periods of water
scarcity. Likewise an efficient drainage system could have detoured the surplus water through efficient rerouting, thus mitigating the intensity of flood waves, as they moved from north to south.
It is in this context that we need to review the existing water storage capacity alongside the efficiency of national drainage system; and create enhancements in storage capacity as well as optimize drainage efficiency to avoid recurrences of this nature.
There is a need to ascertain the existing water storage capacity and quantum of surplus water that has flown into the sea during current flooding; identify the shortfall and determine the requirement for enhancements through up-gradations of existing reservoirs and construction of new ones.
Moreover, we also need to focus on capacity shortfall of existing drainage system and undertake appropriate enhancement measures. Furthermore, there is a need to formulate a composite strategy of enmeshing drainage and storage through interlinking the two for achieving an efficient storage/drainage combine through water regulation.
If water storage capacity is enhanced, the surplus water could be stored for usage during remaining period of the year. Keeping in view the sensitivities of the provinces with regard to water management issues, it is proposed that in addition to national level strategic storages, the provinces be encouraged to develop their own water storage infrastructures. Provinces should have exclusive rights of usage over their stored water. Moreover, inter province sale of surplus water on federally approved rates could create an incentive for the provinces to invest in this venture.
Proposed methodology comprises of various means aimed at synergizing their effects, these are:-
- All available technologies should be employed to enhance the water storage capacities of all existing dams through raising their height and regular dredging of reservoirs.
- Existing natural water lakes’ storage capacity may be enhanced through expansion, so that these could take additional storage.
- During the floods, water released through spillway gates of dams and head works should not join the same main stream. Rather it should go to designated water storage facilities, or flow into designated drainage channel. This would progressively tone down the intensity of flood as it moves southward.
- Additional regular and rainwater dams should be built.
- Apart from dams, suitable locations need to be surveyed for building water storage facilities. A scientifically carried survey would reveal numerous locations where water storage facilities could be built/improvised
- Envisaged National drainage System should, inter alia, comprise of two high speed water channels running almost entire length of country, from north to south , one on east of river system, the other on west of river system. These channels should be so routed to connect all water storage facilities through feeding in as well as feeding out mini channels through water regulatory mechanism. This format of storage-drainage-composite would facilitate inter location shifting of water. Net surplus that is beyond the net storage capacity of the country should keep pouring into these two envisaged drainage channels for final disposal into Arabian Sea. Existing national drainage system should be
reconfigured to take the newly envisaged format.
During these testing moments national leadership needs to rise to the occasion. A bipartisan approach is needed to resolve this issue of immense national impotence. A parliamentary committee should be constituted having representation from all political parties. This committee should thoroughly examine all possible options and formulate a consensus policy on National Water Management. Implementation may be spread over a period of about ten years. This would be a long hall activity; it may also cause economic tightness. But once this project is on ground, we will not have to worry about floods and water shortage. Hopefully, a number of sponsors would be forthcoming in financing this mega project of national consensus.
Air Cdre Khalid is Masters in Political Science along with War and Strategic Studies. He has also done Air War Course, Fellow of Air War College. Instructor’s Course. Senior Command & Staff course. Combat Commander’s Course. He has been a Directing Staff at various institutions of Pakistan Air Force. Presently he is a visitng faculty at:
- PAF air War College (Staff Wing &War Wing).
- School of Army Air Defence.
- Naval War College, Lahore.
Quaid-i- Azam University (DSS Department)