By Carlos Vasquez
27 November 2010, Sukkur district, Sindh Province, Pakistan
N 27d 58.89”
E 67d 54.62”
These numbers may not mean much to people here in Pakistan or elsewhere in this ever shrinking world. To information technology people these are clearly the coordinates for a geographical location, also known as Global Positioning System, or GPS.
Behind these numbers there is just one more story, out of many, that are part of the complex and monumental devastation that the waters of the Indus River left behind during August 2010. These numbers will take you to a small village in northern Sindh.
The floods began August 3rd as I sat in Bangkok in a workshop for school design and construction. The numbers kept escalating as the workshop went on, but it all seemed so removed and difficult to embrace; millions of people affected, thousands of agricultural land lost or damaged. By the time I returned to New York part of the reality was settling in; 20 million affected and the land coverage was that of the size of Italy. Available media outlets were not really covering the story to reflect the magnitude of the disaster.
Like any other disaster this was in many aspects a man-made event with far reaching effects and long term impacts. Some of the interconnected anthropogenic events are common to the region and other parts of the world; rampant deforestation, short-sighted national water management, severe damage to the hydrologic cycle, climate change patterns, lost of agricultural land and river banks to urbanization.
The late arrival of the monsoon season brought large amounts of rain water. High temperatures melted mountain snow and ice creating strong flash floods north of the country. The combination of the waters oversaturated the capacity of rivers and flood plains. Large amounts of water began to move at high speed; cut trees that were lying on river banks moved downriver taking bridges and structures along the way.
Punjab sits between the Indus River and the Chebad River. This land is technically part of the natural flood plains of both rivers, making this province a very fertile land. The capacity of the Indus River in the province is 670,000 cubic feet/sec. By the time the flood waters reached the district to Multan in Punjab, the amount of water was 1.3 million cubic feet/sec. The Chebab River was carrying more than 500,000 cubic feet/sec. Both rivers meet right before entering Sindh province. Local authorities knew that if Punjad was not flooded by stopping the water of the Chebab River, Sindh would have been washed away completely.
Mr. Haji Sohrab is the elder leader of the village located in this GPS location in northern Sindh. The village was 90 per cent destroyed by the waters of the Indus River that in part had already flooded Punjab to save Sindh. The village lost almost every home, both the boys’ and girls’ schools; there is no drinking water available due to saline contamination, open defecation is common practice, food is distributed every 15 days and the last drop off will be in 10 days.
Children in the village have not attended school since August and the government calculates no permanent school will be rebuilt in the next 5 years due to lack of funding, capacity and federal priorities; available funds will be spent in communication (roads, telecommunications), infrastructure and hospitals. Education is last on the list. The lack of drinking water, sanitation facilities, food, psychosocial support and basic health services are putting children and the community at risk every day that passes by.
When I shook hands with Mr. Sohrab before leaving, he looked at me and holding the hand of a small girl, he said, “Thank you for coming to my village and meeting my people”.
We should be able to do much more than this.