Pakistani dams at bursting point

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Two major dams in southern Pakistan are on the brink of collapse due to the recent flooding, the most serious the country has faced for 80 years.

“The dams are already stretched beyond capacity,” warns Red Cross spokeswoman Eva Smits:
“People are doing everything they can to channel the water away but the continuing rain means the level carries on increasing. The pressure on the dams is enormous. I’d describe the situation as critical. The big worry is that the dams will collapse, releasing a huge amount of water which will just wash whole villages and towns away.”
 
14 million
Northern Pakistan started to experience unusually heavy rainfall two weeks ago. The River Indus eventually burst its banks. The flooding has now spread towards the south of the country covering a distance of over 1,000 kilometres. Nearly 14 million people have been affected by the disaster, about eight percent of the population.
 
The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says more people have been hit than were affected by the 2004 Asian tsunami, Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake and this year’s quake in Haiti combined.
 
So far, the death toll stands at an estimated 1,600. At least two million people have lost their homes and about one million people have been cut off from the outside world.
 
[media:image]Relief effort
The continuing bad weather is severely hampering the relief effort. Helicopters have been grounded and mudslides have blocked many roads. Army personnel have been reduced to using donkeys in difficult areas. Food reserves have run out in large areas of the country, increasing the likelihood of famine.
 
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the international community to offer generous financial aid. He says that hundreds of millions of euros are needed for emergency supplies alone.
 
Climate change
Pakistan is not the only country facing major flooding. Areas of China and Eastern Europe have also been hit. Russia is battling against serious forest fires and Portugal is dealing with severe drought. Are these phenomena the result of climate change? Water management expert Piet Dircke from the Dutch company Arcadis explains that it’s not that simple:
 
“It’s difficult to say whether this or that particular disaster is caused by climate change. But we are seeing more and more of the sort of thing experts have been predicting, that global warming leads to these sorts of extremes, both drought and flooding. People add to the problem, by living next to rivers, felling forests and so forth. This interaction between global warming and human activity leads to increasingly severe disasters.”