SHEHLA AMBREEN

ISLAMABAD - The volume of water that will enter the Arabian Sea, this time, would be more than the volume discharged in the 2010 floods. Besides, the recent flashfloods triggered by heavy rains have spread more, particularly on fertile lands, unlike the 2010 floods that had affected mostly barren lands or rain-fed areas with diminished potential for crop produce.

Experts say it will only intensify the economic losses in terms of reductions in crop yields.

According to the World Bank, the unprecedented floods in 2010 generated by an extraordinary rainfall during mid-July to September had affected over 20 million people and damaged thousands of acres of crops and agricultural lands. The floodwaters travelling downstream through the barrages in Punjab and Sindh had affected 78 districts and over 1,980 people were killed.

The recent heavy falls and consequent flashfloods, en route to south, were generated by an active system of monsoon that travelled along the Pak-India border triggering heavy downpours on both sides. In Pakistan, the floodwaters ravaged Punjab, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan killing more than 200 people so far and inundating both agricultural and residential areas.

But, except for the Indian-held Kashmir, the destruction suffered by Pakistani Punjab is unequal to the damage in adjoining Indian regions where it has constructed dams on almost every river and in case of any spillover, as soon as the water level in the river lowers, the inundating water in the fields goes back to the rivers and later through channels gets stored in the reservoirs.

In Indian-held Kashmir, being a mountainous area, the same approach is not applicable. The width of rivers at some points (gorges) becomes narrow in hilly areas, which means contracting the passage of water. Excessive water accumulation at the gorges creates reverse damming, which raises the water level along the embankment submerging the surrounding areas.

In Pakistani Punjab, the flashfloods have affected more than 325,647 acres of crop area, according to National Disaster Management Authority. Rice and cotton are backbone of Pakistan’s economy and after swamping their crops in Punjab, floodwaters are now moving to south. Sugarcane crop is also sensitive to hot stagnant water.

“The floodwater has affected food basket of the country. Rice crop is more tolerant to the excessive water than cotton crop, but still it can’t withstand with excess water for long. Now the floodwater is moving towards the cotton fields in south after inundating rice fields in Punjab. If, in Sindh, water remains in the cotton fields for three days, the whole crop will collapse, causing huge losses to the economic lifeline of farmers and the country with an impact on the region as well,” said Dr Ghulam Rasul, Chief Meteorologist at Pakistan Meteorological Department.

Dr Rasul said that the calamity could have been turned into a blessing had Pakistan built more dams. “A high peak is produced when water of both Rivers Chenab and Jhelum converge at a single point and advance together. This time water was trapped in Mangla Dam on River Jhelum and not released until the water level in River Chenab got lowered, which prevented development of a peak. Constructing more dams in succession of Mangla Dam will help in trapping water and preventing high peaks that can flood contiguous areas,” he added.

Sindh is the last receiver of floodwater as an inescapable victim. It becomes water-staying pot. “Indus delta comprising Thatta, Sajawal and Debal buffers between sea and floodwater. Water will exist on the Sindh lands. The super moon just passed could raise the sea tides preventing flow of floodwater into the sea. It could cause inundation of Sindh lands, which already has poor drainage due to low seepage - a characteristic of clay soil. Swamped water in the fields will affect yield of banana, chilies and cotton,” Dr Rasul said.

The only advantage of floodwater is that it carries with it rich sediment that adds to the fertility of the inundated lands. But, the damage caused by floods is always greater than the advantage of increased yield due to added sediment. He said further rain would be in shape of patches over the stagnant water due to evaporation, which would remain localised.