How the British Did it Better

Dec 2012

English | اردو

In a relentless pursuit of growth and development, the Pakistani state has ignored colonial-era strategies—that took natural risks, like monsoon floods, into consideration.

The Indus River is unique in more ways than one. If we ignore this, we do so at our own peril. In the last three decades, or more, the Pakistani state has been putting aside concerns for the uniqueness of our river, and relentlessly pursuing multi-billion rupee constructions, endangering existing infrastructure and the lives of our people.

Colonial-era designers were more aware of such natural forces, planning with and around them to prevent the sort of floods we have seen over the last three years. The Pakistani state has not only ignored, but worked against some of the colonial-era planning that helped the British avoid the devastation that we see today.

Water flows at incredibly different speeds through the River Indus—anywhere between a few thousand, to millions of cubic feet per second (or cusecs). Colonial era designers of the Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS)—the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world—were well aware of these huge fluctuations in water flows from one monsoon season to the next. Since the IBIS was primarily built on the left bank of the river (the east of the Indus River, if you look at an average map), it meant that the right bank (or the west of the river) was empty. There was a reason for this. The right bank sat between the Suleiman mountain range, and the Indus. And that meant that there was less land to irrigate. And that the area needed to be mostly free, so that water flowing from the Suleiman mountains could wash out in the Indus.

This right bank was not just useful to deal with water from the Suleiman mountains. It was also useful to deal with the excess water from the Indus River during monsoon seasons. The British officially picked parts of the right bank, and designated them as “breaching sections” in various land use plans. A “breaching section” was meant to be blown up if authorities feared that the water pressure on the other side of the river may breach the protection infrastructure and jeopardise the canal infrastructure. The geographical depressions in the area between the right bank and the mountain range would hold the excess water and the embankments would be repaired after the Monsoon season.

For this reason, no major infrastructure was developed on the right bank in these breaches. Special relief funds were routinely allocated to alleviate the inconvenience of people who would be evacuated from the areas and affected by the controlled breaches.

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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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