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Waiting for another round of flooding

Rickety boats are the only means to get from Khariyo Village, an island in the Indus river delta, to the small impoverished town of Keti Bandar
(Sumaira Jajja/IRIN)

All eyes are on the Kotri Barrage in southeastern Pakistan, the last on the River Indus before it flows into the Arabian Sea. Meteorologists expect more but moderate rainfall over the upper reaches of the river, but a scientist involved in managing the ecosystem in that part of the river is optimistic.

About 1.5 million people live along the last 120 km stretch of the Indus from the Kotri Barrage in southern Sindh Province to where its 13 outlets empty their water into the sea, said Mohammed Tahir Qureshi, senior advisor on coastal ecosystems at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Pakistan.

Storage dams and barrages have been built on the Indus River, and a complex network of canals channels the water to about 30 million acres of agricultural land, according to the IUCN. Unlike other barrages on the river, where the flow has begun to level off and even ebb, the water at the Kotri Barrage has risen to an alarming level.

The Indus usually flows through the Kotri Barrage at a speed of about 2,841 cubic metres per second on the last leg of its journey to the sea; it is currently flowing at more than 25,485 cubic metres per second - at least 10 times its normal flow rate. "We are concerned whether the barrage will be able to withstand the tremendous flow of the water," said Prof Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry, head of the Pakistan Meteorological Department and a member of the government's task force on climate change.

Qureshi said, "I think the barrage has the capacity to withstand that flow - the river was flowing at more than 31,148 cubic metres per second in the 1976 floods at Kotri." The water from the barrage is being diverted into three huge canals to ease the pressure on the barrage.

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The authorities have been working round the clock for the past two months, constructing embankments six metres high along the last stretch of the Indus. "We also expect Mesquite, a leguminous plant of the Prosopis genus found in the river bed, to break the flow of the water," said Qureshi, who visited the area four days ago. "There are some communities of subsistence farmers who grow fruit orchards and [rice] paddy along the river, who have been evacuated. I am optimistic.”

The Kotri Barrage, built in 1956 near the city of Hyderabad in Sindh, is at "the upstream end of the lower Indus floodplain and delta area, and has a significant effect on the amount of water reaching the delta," said the IUCN.

The government put the number of people affected by floods at more than 17 million, mainly along the Indus, which enters Pakistan from the Himalayas in the north and moves south to the Arabian Sea in a 3,000 km stretch across the country. Unusually intense monsoon rains flooded the river and its tributaries, inundating villages and settlements and leaving at least 10 million people in need of aid.

Prof Chaudhry said the monsoons had shifted gear, with "the intense period over, we are not expecting torrential, but moderate rains over the upper reaches of the Indus, but even moderate rains could spell trouble, as the Indus and its tributaries are flowing at their maximum capacity."

No one will be harmed

The good news is that the stationary wave pattern in the upper-atmosphere jet stream, which fixed a trough over northern Pakistan and was one of the factors leading to the deluge, "has broken down over the last week or so", said Andrew Turner, who studies monsoons at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading in the UK. "There is currently no indication that it will re-emerge, but from July to September, Pakistan normally expects to experience monsoon rainfall.”

Kotri Barrage on the River Indus (<a href="http://www.irinnews.org/pdf/Monsoon_Flood_Affected_Districts_in_Pakistan_23_August_2010.pdf" target="_blank"><strong><font color=#006699>See larger version of map</font></strong></a>)

Kotri Barrage on the River Indus (<a href="http://www.irinnews.org/pdf/Monsoon_Flood_Affected_Districts_in_Pakistan_23_August_2010.pdf" target="_blank"><strong><font color=#006699>See larger version of map</font></strong></a>)...
Monday, August 23, 2010
Waiting for another round of flooding
Kotri Barrage on the River Indus (<a href="http://www.irinnews.org/pdf/Monsoon_Flood_Affected_Districts_in_Pakistan_23_August_2010.pdf" target="_blank"><strong><font color=#006699>See larger version of map</font></strong></a>)...

Photo: OCHA
Kotri Barrage on the River Indus (See larger version of map)

He cited the developing La Niña – characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean – and said it had been linked to higher than normal rainfall over the South Asia monsoon region during summer. "However, there is no suggestion yet that this may be related to the recent heavy rainfall in Pakistan."

So far there is consensus in the scientific community that a confluence of factors led to the deluge over Pakistan. Besides the disturbance in the jet stream, two monsoon systems arrived at the same time, intensifying the rains, said Chaudhry, who is also vice president of the World Meteorological Organization's Asia region.

The rains had uncharacteristically moved north into parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in the northwest, which usually received rainfall near the end of August, when the monsoon season finishes in Pakistan, "but we have recorded heavy flooding in September in some years - we are keeping our fingers crossed," he said.

"You cannot, of course, link any particular event with climate change, but we have had a lot of unusual weather this year," he noted. The country was hit by a heat wave in May, chalking up a record-breaking 52 degrees Celsius. "We were also hit by a cyclone - Phet - in June. Cyclones are very rarely recorded in Pakistan, but in the past 10 to 15 years at least three have been recorded."

Cyclone Phet did not claim any lives because of timely evacuations, but thousands of homes along the coast in Sindh were destroyed, and it is these people that are now waiting to see if the floods will come.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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