Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rebuilding Pakistan-part 2: Creating Big Lakes along the Rivers

September 16, 2011

By Saeed Qureshi

The devastation wrought by the floods in recent years in Pakistan is harrowing. The vast land in all the four provinces is submerged under the thick layer of water. Countless cattle heads, livestock die and the standing crops are ruined.Beside scores of humans also perish in the huge floods that look like the biblical deluge.

This is a recurring phenomenon and every year rural population has to bear the brunt of the colossal destruction caused by the raging floods that start from the upper reaches down to the sea. The people remain marooned for months together. They are displaced and due to meager or no help from the government, suffer from malnutrition, sickness like malaria and dengue fever; the abdominal disorders like diahorrea and thus several die or remain on the bed for a long time.

Last year there was remarkable participation by the federal and local provincial governments and also by the international donors to help the affected people who fell back on poverty, hunger and shortage of staple food. But the most glaring and phenomenal loss is that of water that flows down into the ocean without being utilized for the whole year.

I have seen in The United States that around every city there is a ring of big lakes that are either man made or naturally created. But mostly these have been created by the government. These lakes serve several purposes.

First these provide drinking water round the year. From these lakes, the water is pumped to the filtration plants and then sent to reservoirs. Whenever the tap or faucet is turned on, the crystal clear water gushes out with great force. It shows how plentifully the water is available in all the cities, towns and villages of the United States.

After every furlong or 200 to 300 meters there is a fire hydrant. That is meant to provide emergency water in case of fire. In the entire length and breadth of the county and even in remote villages, there will be these water hydrants on the roadside. The water released from these steel hydrants is enormously forceful and flows out with tremendous pressure and like a torrent.

Secondly, these lakes provide water for agricultural purposes. In case of drought this water is always available in every season. The lakes add to the beauty of the environment with picturesque surroundings, for picnicking, boating, fishing, partying and similar enjoyable pastimes. There are parks, and BBQ huts and green areas created around these lakes.

The water sports are a part of the great fun that is provided at these lakes. These lakes remain full of boats and small ships that the people own or hire. These lakes help maintain the ecological balance and are most scenic places in the vicinities of the cities.

Pakistan is blessed with five rivers that overflow during the rainy season and reduce to a trickle during the dry weather. Yet still the water keeps flowing due to the glaciers that cover the mountains’ peaks round the year.

Those cities which are far away from the rivers can be ringed with artificial lakes and some portion of the water from the canals also can be diverted to these man-made lakes.

As earlier stated, during the monsoon rains and even during the heavy downpours, cities in Pakistan are inundated causing great financial loss and displacement of the citizens. The standing crops are destroyed and the peasants are impoverished.

When the rain water dries up, the epidemics of diseases seize the human habitats. The citizens remain vulnerable to all kinds of ailments that germinate from the dirty, stinking rain water swarmed by all kind of bacteria, worms, insects, flies and mosquitoes.

It is extremely necessary to construct wider and deep drainage outlets to carry the water from the cities and villages to the lakes. There are such open drainage channels or creeks in every city of the United Sates that flush out the rain water by the time the clouds wither away.

In Pakistan all the water that accumulates in the cities due to rains mostly dries up but cannot be preserved as we have no storm drains, channels or ducts to move the water out of the cities.

The task of creating lakes to save flood and rain water should be assigned to a special task force that should speedily acquire the land and start digging the beds for lakes and constructing levees or embankments around where necessary. Otherwise simply the depth of lakes would be enough to contain water without cemented levees.

These lakes should be like Mancher Lake in Sindh that is a great source of fishing and water for the local areas. Lake Manchar is the largest freshwater lake in Pakistan and one of the largest in Asia. It is located west of the Indus River in Sindh. The area of the lake fluctuates with the seasons from as little as 350 km² to 520 km²maximum.

There are 135 lakes both natural and manmade in India. One can imagine how much stationary water should be available for the Indian population round the year in all part of country. Likewise there are innumerable big and small lakes in West Europe and in Canada that are source of constant supply of water in these countries for all kind of uses.

More than the use of water for human consumption or irrigation or ecological balance, these lakes are vital for controlling the colossal damage and devastation that the floods and overflowing of rivers cause to the vast number of people in Pakistan more specifically in the Punjab and Sindh provinces.

There cannot be two opinions that if the flood water is contained in lakes and our crops are protected from the heavy rains or floods and drought, Pakistan would be able to not only feed its people, bring prosperity to the tillers and farmers but would be able to earn foreign exchange that is hugely spent every year on imports of grains and food items.

• The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat
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