How the British Did it Better

Dec 2012

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Pakistan’s policy shift

In 1976, technical and safety considerations gave way to political expediency. The Pakistani state started to violate land use plans that would govern the application of lands on both sides of the Indus River. Instead, the state started to construct a number of mega infrastructure schemes, chiefly the Chashma Right Bank Canal and the Indus Highway. Naturally these developments have spawned permanent human settlements, businesses and community infrastructure in areas that the British would earlier call flood-prone.

In the colonial era, the British had a plan for how to deal with excess flood water—they would declare areas, on the left bank in Sindh and right bank in Punjab, as breaching sections. Now, when the flood water becomes too overwhelming for the embankments to contain, irrigation managers are faced with the choice of imperilling either the intricate canal system on one bank, or the equally vital newly constructed assets on the other.

With the violation and seemingly irreversible changes of the land use plans, the old rules and protocols about blowing up the officially designated breaching sections in the event of a flood have become redundant—and no new rules are being put in place.

This has given rise to a culture of might-is-right with the more powerful and influential sections of society asserting their prowess to stop embankments breaches where they see it imperilling the assets belonging to themselves or their supporters. This open playing field translated into water breaking the embankments and other lines of flood protection on the right bank of the Indus River downstream of the Guddu barrage near Kashmore, and during the 2010 floods—submerging areas that would not have been inundated under British land use plans and flood management protocols

Usman Qazi is an engineer, and a community development, human rights and humanitarian relief worker from Quetta, Balochistan.

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4 Responses to How the British Did it Better

  1. Khan Inamullah Agha on Dec 2012 at 3:08 AM

    Having read that valuable insight, i would suggest Mr Qazi to further elaborate keeping his experience at hand and also having the previllige to working with world bank and UN humanitarian platforms, to come up with what should be future disaster resilient strategies now to cope our ill planned developments…. Not just that what he described about the planned breaches to reduce the pressure of the floods on either bank where necessary or by those who influence certain areas, I would request him about saying something on LBOD, which itself is a disaster in lap, to have his say. Regards Khan

  2. Daanish Mustafa on Dec 2012 at 4:52 AM

    Janaab Qazi sahib–maza aaya! Excellent problem definition.


  3. Farooq Khan on Dec 2012 at 11:03 AM

    Qazi sb’s recommendations are in between the lines of his very good analysis..have a land use plan and enforce it too if we want to manage future disasters. Build more dams to attenuate future floods…but that may be seen as surrendering control over water to other Provinces..

  4. Rashid Ashraf on Dec 2012 at 12:17 AM

    صورتحال کا نہایت گہری نظر سے جائزہ لیا ہے آپ نے، معلوماتی بھی ہے اور چشم کشا بھی۔

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