Influentials disagree with irrigation staff
Standoffs and a tense situation has been reported between villagers, influential landlords and government staff along parts of the Left Bank Outfall Drain or LBOD, which has flooded in the monsoon rains this last week or so. The irrigation staff wants to put cuts in the waterway to prevent pressure from building up. The locals disagree as they do not want their lands flooded at the cuts.
The problem is that some solution needs to be implemented as flood management. If not done properly settlements such as Badin city could be at risk.
The LBOD is a 385km long ‘drain’ that was built in the late 1990s with the help of World Bank money to try to tackle water logging and salinity. It is an artificial waterway from Nawabshah down to the sea and is supposed to drain out or carry municipal waste, saline subsoil water, to put it crudely. And while it is difficult to go into the details here, it is important to mention that the LBOD has often been the subject of controversy and politics and has generally acquired a bit of a grim reputation.
But right now, according to journalist Hanif Samoon, people living on the right bank of the LBOD in Thar are panicking as the waters have risen. Samoon reported that the people living in the barrage areas of Thar warned of dire consequences if government functionaries ventured to divert the flows of the LBOD towards their areas by cutting through it.
Mohammad Khan Loond, Azizullah Dero, Zahid Bhurgari and other notables and growers of the area spoke to journalists Saturday, Samoon reported. They said that functionaries of the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority and the irrigation department were reportedly insisting on diverting the flows of the water to weaken the pressure but this would inundate their vast areas in Tharparkar district.
They said that a wide ‘breach’ in the drain had already destroyed settlements and the standing crops in parts of Badin district in Malkani Sharif. They said that the same mistake was made during the floods in 2011. Hundreds of residents of the barrage areas of Thar had started patrolling the ‘dykes’ to prevent this. They said that some influential figures in Umerkot and Mirpurkhas districts wanted to save their lands at the expense of theirs. They claimed that officials and lawmakers had arrived again on Friday to cut through the LBOD ‘dyke’ but were met with resistance of armed enraged locals and were forced to return.
Samaa Digital was unable to independently confirm these claims. The background and situation with the LBOD is more complicated and political, as an expert indicated.
First of all, the word ‘breach’ is not entire correct to use for the LBOD as it is a drain that sits in the ground, the expert said. When there is torrential rain, the LBOD overflows. The rainwater starts building up in it or accumulating from upstream, which is Nawabshah, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas.
What has happened over the years is that influential men and landlords in the area have put cuts in the LBOD to irrigate their own land. This is not allowed because the LBOD is a drain and not an irrigation canal. Satellite imagery from 2009 shows clear cuts put in the canal. The problem with this is that when you try to fill them in, it takes time because the soil needs compacting for one. Fixing this is complicated.
When you have flooding, the best way to manage is to let the water out and spread it across as large an area as possible. There is no way to stopper it.
There was an experiment in 2011 to see if cuts in the LBOD at the right places could send its extra water into the depressions left by the old Dhoro Puran river. Often influential people take over these lands and start cultivating in them. So then, when the irrigation staff want to divert the extra water flooding the LBOD, these people get up in arms.
There are two groups in Badin, those who support the PPP and those who back Zulfiqar Mirza. And so, the tussle over the land to flood turns political. The problem is that local journalists take sides as well often and only portray one side of the story for which ever group they support.
But in some cases it is essential to flood some areas to save others. For example, settlements and Badin city need to be protected.
The LBOD has suffered neglect over the years and silted up or been taken over by vegetation. The problem is that no one really wants to own it. Who would want to own a drain. Irrigation canals are another story.
The LBOD has a bad name because it led to suffering in lower Badin and had a terrible impact on the fisheries and wetland habitats or dhands. But the LBOD has played some part in helping drain flood water. Satellite imagery shows that it did its work as a mega drain after the 2011 flooding because areas associated with it went back to growing just two months later. That is because as a drainage system it has branches. So the floodwaters went into it.