Disaster Management in Sindh With Historical Perspective
The province of Sindh has historically suffered from both natural and manmade disasters. The high level of risk is mainly from floods, heavy rains, cyclones in coastal area, sea intrusion, droughts, earthquakes, epidemics etc.
Floods, Rains: The topography of Sindh Province is almost flat and located at the bottom of Indus basin. The surplus water of Indus River and its tributaries including monsoon has to pass through Sindh. Hill torrents which emanate from Balochistan are also adding up to the pressure on both accounts, till its outfall in the Arabian Sea. The River Indus in Sindh is dangerous, because it flows at ridge. In case of breach the out flowing water cannot be drained back into the river at any point. The Indus River is also popular for changing its course.
High floods since the creation of modern irrigation network in 1932 are being monitored. The river Indus is contained by flood protection embankments which are 1400 miles, so as to protect irrigation network emanating from three barrages having 12.8 million acres’ 0f command area. Besides, there is a large network of surface drainage and 6000 public tube wells, roads, railways network, cities / towns, rural settlements etc. The high floods occurred during 1942, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1992, 1994, 1995, 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Rains of 2003 monsoon in Sindh have affected around 411,000 acres of crop area, while 18,500 kilometers of road infrastructure suffered huge losses. Roughly losses are estimated around 45 billion rupees. This estimate includes crop damage, damage to health, education and road infrastructure, damage to houses and destruction of irrigation and drainage facilities.
Cyclones: The coastal districts have also been adversely affected by heavy rainfall and cyclones. The districts of Thatta and Badin have been badly affected on several occasions. Cyclones not only wiped out the human settlements and resulted in the huge losses of human and animal lives, but they also destroyed and damaged fishing boats, therefore badly affected the livelihood of the majority of residents of these two districts.
Historically, the tropical cyclones formed over the Arabian Sea and making landfall at the coastal areas of Sindh. Major cyclones reaching Sindh during the last 100 years happened in May 1902, June 1926, June 1964, Nov. 1993, June 1998, May 1999 and June 2007 (Cyclone– 02A). Keti Bunder town was wiped out four times in recent history.
Tsunami: The Sindh province can be a recipient of a tsunami disaster. A tsunami disaster occurred in November 1945 at Makran coast in Balochistan Province. It produced sea waves of 12-15 meters height that killed about 4,000 people. Although Karachi was away from the epicenter, but still it experienced 6 feet high sea waves which affected harbour facilities. This happened during the months of March, April and May.
The effects of tsunami of December, 2004 were also felt along the Pakistan coastline. Abnormal rise in water detected by tide gauge station at Keti Bander area created panic in the coastal population including Karachi.
Drought: Sindh geographically can be divided into four zones namely eastern desert, western hilly / mountainous area, coastal area in the south and irrigated agriculture area in the middle. Its 60% area is arid receiving rainfall on average of 5 inches during monsoon and very little in December & January. The arid area people depend upon the scanty rainfall raising livestock and millet crops. The failure of rainfall and global climatic effects reduce the water supplies in Indus River System (IRS). Sindh being at the far end of the system usually takes the brink. Besides, two-third of ground water is brackish and 80% agricultural land is affected by water logging and salinity.
Arid area people usually move to canal commanded area but low flow in the river Indus from 1998-2002 created havoc in the entire province. Historically, Sindh faced the worst drought situation during 1871, 1881, 1899, 1931, 1942 and 1999. The last one persisted till the year 2002. Around 1.4 million people, 5.6 million cattle head and 12.5 million acres cropped area were affected. The ground water depleted to 30-40 feet, and the quality became poor. As a result of malnutrition, disease erupted. The cultivated area reduced in 1998 from 3.415 million acres to 2.611 million acres. The most affected was wheat area 22% and rice almost 35%. Besides, cultivated area grew poor crops, which created food scarcity all over Sindh, except for a couple of districts. There was tremendous drop out (about 27%) in schools, due to drought situation.
Earthquake: The latest earthquake that affected Sindh desert area was recorded in the year 2001 in Tharparkar district and the bordering Badin District was also badly affected. Due to this earthquake 12 people lost their lives, 115 persons got injured, 1989 houses were fully damaged, 43643 houses partially damaged and 1406 public sector buildings got damaged. Loss in financial terms was recorded around Rs. 2.4 billion.
A geological tectonic line runs under Karachi through Khirthar Hills / Mountains to north-west of Sindh and Thar Desert, due to which Sindh has risk of a major earthquake in the future.
Sea Intrusion: Apart from drought and cyclone the coastal of Sindh is also badly affected by sea intrusion. Thatta and Badin districts are among such areas. Between 2000 and 2002, the outflow of water downstream Kotri Barrage declined which resulted in massive sea intrusion in coastal areas of Thatta and Badin. This intrusion wreaked havoc not only on human and fish population but also damaged agricultural land badly. The country is losing sea food market every year due to depletion of fish and shrimp population in the region. The table below provides details on the affected areas.
Some adverse effects of reduction in freshwater flow to the Indus are listed below: Decrease in the availability of potable water Increased malnutrition and disease Reduction in fish population and mangroves Increased salinity and destruction of agriculture Increased poverty.
Massive migration from coastal talukas of Shah Bunder, Kharochan, Keti Bunder, Ghorabari, Jati and Mirpur Sakro. Destruction caused by sea intrusion can be combated by increasing the downstream flow into Kotri Barrage to at least 10 MAF.
Accidental Fires: There have been no wide spread fire s in the province, since; the density of forest area is negligible. However, large number of fire incidents occurred in rural areas affecting villages and crops. The recent incident happened in Dadu district, where village Mud has been completely burnt and four persons died. In urban area mostly industrial and commercial installations are at risk. A boiler blast in SITE area and the PNSC building which got burnt twice in Karachi are the three recent incidents. On average in Karachi 3-4 fire incidents take place every day. The main reasons in rural and urban area are summer winds and electrical short circuits. There are over 12,000 industrial units in Sindh, but the arrangement for prevention and tackling of fire incidents are poor. Availability of fire brigade / fire fighting equipments even in major urban centers like Karachi is not adequate.
Communal strife: The province in one way or the other faces serious communal strife which affects the security of common man and cause economic loss and social problems. In the north Sindh incidents of tribal clash, honor killing, dacoities, robberies and armed clashes are common.
Epidemics: In the past during 1950’s mainly epidemics like chol era and small pox were experienced, which have now been eradicated. However severe danger from TB, cardiac and hepatitis, dengue fever like diseases still prevails.
Environmental Degradation: The deteriorating drainage and increased density of human waste and other pollution in the Indus River has negative impacts on the human and livestock populations, as well as, on agriculture, fishing, land, water and forest. So degradation has threatened a range of livelihoods, lower water levels have also resulted in diminished sizes of buffalo herds, which need shallow water as part of their habitat. This has caused heavy reduction in milk production and hardship for families dependent upon buffalo milk as their source of income. The coastal areas are already arid and have brackish ground water. These problems were compounded in May 1999 when a cyclone struck the coast. This was followed by an earthquake in Janu ary 2001. Consequently as a result in the coastal belt of Thatta and Badin districts, poverty has increased significantly. To add further to the problems of the people the intrusion of sea water has rendered farmland non-productive and affected coastal mangrove forests. These mangrove forests are a breeding zone for fish, shrimps, lobsters, and crab, which provide employment and livelihood to thousands of people. Moreover, mangrove forests provide fuel wood and fodder. The oil spill from a ship in July 2003 polluted the Karachi beach by spreading on about 12 km length.