Our Waterways: Learning from Failure in Mountains!

Aug 10th, 2011 | By | Category: Development and Climate Change, Disasters and Climate Change, M-20 CAMPAIGN, Pakistan, River, Youth Speak

Noreen Haider: Disaster are far more dependent on the processes surrounding vulnerability, including asset depletion, deforestation, soil erosion, population growth, poor planning, coping capacities of population, climate change, bad governance and corruption to state a few. The flood effectively proved once again that unless Risk Reduction strategies are incorporated in the overall planning at the very grass root level, sustainable development would remain an elusive dream.

In terms of damage to the infrastructure the area most severely hit in Pakistan during 2010 flood was Khyber Pakhtun Khawa. In its 20 districts more than 4300 Km of road was damaged with an estimates of 13182 million rupees. 375 bridges were damaged including, eighty minor and seventy one major RCC bridges, twenty causeways and two hundred and four suspension bridges. Twenty nine bridges were damaged in the district Swat alone where the gushing water of Indus River devastated everything that came in its path and cut off all communication for weeks.

Pakistan Flood-Bridge collapseThe magnitude of the hazard in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was indeed very high and can be visualized from the fact that the annual rainfall in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is 962 mm, whereas the rainfall received during 28th July to 3rd August 2010 was 3462 mm which resulted in the highest ever water discharge flow in all head works and rivers. The total number of persons affected was 3.8 million with 1,070 dead and 1,056 injured.

Why was there such a massive bridge failure? Well, according to engineers there were two main causes; one was the inappropriate bridge designs which were neither suitable to the terrain nor in accordance with the historic data of the river flows in the region, and another was too much debris flowing in the river including logs and concrete blocks.

In all the bridges standing on piers the fast flowing river scored away the river bed downstream thus eroding it completely. The torrents of water put immense pressure on the bridge which was made worse by the flowing debris. The debris of huge tree trunks and concrete blocks created the dam effect around the piers of the bridges which raised the flood water to the top of the bridge or over it. Most of the bridges collapsed completely as a result. Another reason was the erosion of the abutments which also caused many bridges to cave in or collapse completely or partially.

The cost of rebuilding just the roads and bridges was a whopping of Rs 6890.158 million (DNA). All the earlier development plans have been arrested in the face of the new challenges of rebuilding.People Colleting logs

How hazard becomes a disaster depends on a large number of reasons. While looking in to the reasons for such massive flood and disaster it is evident that, the huge flow of the logs in the river was the result of illegal deforestation and theft of trees by timber mafia that tremendously increased the energy of the river and smashed everything that came in its path. It seems that in most cases the causes of 2010 floods were ‘political’ than ‘natural’ regardless of the hazard that triggers them.

The boundary between natural and man-made disaster is indeed blurred. Disaster are far more dependent on the processes surrounding vulnerability, including asset depletion, deforestation, soil erosion, population growth, poor planning, coping capacities of population, climate change, bad governance and corruption to state a few. The flood effectively proved once again that unless Risk Reduction strategies are incorporated in the overall planning at the very grass root level, sustainable development would remain an elusive dream.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan had constituted the flood inquiry commission in December 2010 to investigate the damage caused by the July floods that engulfed the country and caused unprecedented damage to life and property. The commission report noted that if the Munda dam was constructed, there would have been minimal damage downstream in Charsadda, Peshawar and Nowshera districts and Munda Headworks.

In terms of flood mitigation and preparedness the government is yet to initiate an integrated plan to handle floods in future. However there is now a decision on a long term strategy. In the wake of the floods 2010 the Water and Power development Authority has decided to construct Munda Dam on priority basis on the Swat River five kilometer upstream of Munda Headworks.

The interesting things is that after the passing of the eighteenth constitutional amendment in Pakistan in 2010, the Provinces for the first time are autonomous and have authority over their natural resources including the rivers. This has enabled the KPK government to decide that the future of the province is Energy Generation through thermal power. Munda Dam is the first of the many proposed projects in KPK where the government has decided to construct small and medium dams through Public-Private partnership and produce electricity on commercial basis.

Video of 2010 Flood

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_gB3RnJgX4]

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Youth Leaders SpeakAuthor: Noreen Haider has written this article for Climate Himalaya Initiative’s Youth Leaders Speak Column. Noreen is a journalist and educationist from Pakistan.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.

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