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Rain Causes Havoc in Balochistan’s Coastal Region

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Rain Causes Havoc in Balochistan’s Coastal Region

Gwadar, the centerpiece of CPEC, is among the worst-affected areas, exacerbating local complaints of official neglect.

Rain Causes Havoc in Balochistan’s Coastal Region

The commissioner of Makran division and the deputy director of the Balochistan PDMA visit the flood-stricken area of Surbandar, Gwadar, Pakistan, Feb. 27, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/ Provincial Disaster Management Authority – PDMA Balochistan

Kareem Baksh Sohrabi was in Jannat Bazaar, a bustling hub in the coastal region of Gwadar, Pakistan, when the rain started pouring down on February 27. Seeking shelter from the downpour, he took refuge in a nearby shop, hoping the rain would soon pass. 

But it didn’t. It kept raining relentlessly, and soon, the entire bazaar was submerged in water.

After waiting for hours, Kareem finally made his way home through the flooded streets. Upon reaching home, he received the devastating news that his beloved boat had been destroyed in the Sur Bandar area of the city, where it was docked.

The weight of the news hit Kareem hard. His boat was his sole source of income; it was also a symbol of his hard work and dedication. With his livelihood now in ruins, Kareem faced an uncertain future. 

Kareem wasn’t the only one to suffer during the recent rain and floods in Gwadar. Throughout the city, boats were broken, shops were swept away, and houses crumbled under the relentless force of nature. The streets turned into rivers, making it impossible for anyone to move around.

As the situation worsened and the rain continued for 30 hours with few breaks. The entire city became disconnected from the nearby district of Kech and the more-distant urban hub of Karachi when the Basol River washed away the Makran Coastal Highway near Ormara. Roads were submerged, bridges collapsed, and communication lines went dead. Gwadar, once a bustling coastal town called the pearl of the Belt and Road initiative, now lay isolated and vulnerable, cut off from the outside world.

Rain Causes Havoc and Despair in Gwadar

According to a March 4 report from the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) of Balochistan, the recent rains have completely destroyed 97 houses while 200 others were partially damaged. Gwadar alone accounted for over 85 fully destroyed homes and over 175 damaged homes. Five people were reported killed in Balochistan, along with 30 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

The PDMA cautioned that these were preliminary damage counts, as surveys of losses and damages were ongoing in Gwadar, Kech, and Kharan districts.

Another report compiled by the Haq Do Tehreek, dated February 29, asserted that more than 300 houses were damaged, and people’s livestock and infrastructure suffered heavy losses due to the recent calamitous weather. According to reports, Gwadar received over 180 millimeters of rain in only two days, nearly double the normal annual rainfall of the district, 100 millimeters.

Commissioner of Makran Division Shabbir Mengal indicated that nearby areas such as Pasni, Jiwani, Sur-Bandar, Pishukaan, TTC Colony, and the settlements of Mula Band Ward and Koh Bin Ward were severely affected, leaving many homeless and forcing them to seek refuge in safer areas.

Furthermore, the heavy rains in the nearby catchment areas caused the Akra Kaur, Swad, and Shadi Kur dams to overflow with floodwater.

The PDMA said that over 900 individuals have been rescued by Pakistani authorities in Gwadar, with ongoing efforts led by the deputy commissioner in the city. The PDMA report underscored its attempts to drain accumulated water and assist victims, with support from the Pakistan Navy, Army, and district administration. Its report lists thousands of supplies – tents, tarps, gas cylinders, etc. – that have been delivered to affected districts.

But all these claims of supplies and proactive rehabilitation for the calamity-hit port city ring hollow for the inhabitants, as evident in their recent protest blocking Marine Drive near the B&R Chowk. Locals are critical of the slow water removal process by the PDMA and district administration.

“Water still stands in areas like Meer Assa Ward, Lal Baksh Ward, and Shaheen Chowk,” one protester shared with Dawn. “Rescue efforts are sluggish, and misinformation on social media adds to the frustration.”

“We have hardly received any assistance from the government; our only support comes from our relatives when it comes to food and shelter,” another protester expressed. “CPEC is not just about the cricket stadium, Eastbay Expressway, Koh-Batil, or the Gwadar airport; it encompasses the devastated and unfortunate areas like Meer Assa ward, Mula Band Ward and Koh Bin Ward, where you see only sorrowful faces and damaged houses.”

CPEC refers to the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a joint project intended to foster nationwide development through factories, pipelines, and construction of the Gwadar port. For Gwadar in particular, the loft goal is to turn the city into a mega-port and commercial hub akin to Dubai and Singapore. 

The centrality of Gwadar to CPEC – and the importance of CPEC to both Pakistan and China – has locals wondering why the federal and provincial governments seemingly disappeared during the times of crisis. It reiterates pre-existing concerns that Gwadar’s development is mostly occurring on paper, with locals seeing few benefits. 

In an emergency press conference on March 1, Noor Ahmed Kalmati and Faheem Johar, chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Municipal Committee, Gwadar, addressed the dire situation in various areas, including the Tannah Ward, TTC Colony, and the entire Model School, which was submerged under 5 to 6 feet of water at the time. 

“In this crisis, we have evacuated numerous flood victims to government shelters and with their relatives, but our committee lacks adequate resources,” they stated. “Despite our pleas to the Deputy Commissioner of Gwadar, Commissioner [of] Makran, and the Caretaker government for generators, tankers, and pipes to mitigate potential disturbances warned by the Balochistan Meteorological Department, our requests were unmet. Despite efforts by municipal councillors and the Haq Do Tareek volunteers in the Tannah Ward, a single generator is insufficient to pump out the entire accumulated water.”

Initially, the committee received 24 generators from the deputy commissioner, but lacked the necessary 700 feet of piping to remove the water. “Currently, we have 24 generators and seven tankers, with three engaged in draining water from the TTC Colony, three in Shambay Ismial, and one bulldozer in the city. Despite receiving four generators from PDMA, PDMA is itself lost,” Kalmati explained. 

“Contrary to false reports, no authorities have extended assistance, and we have been tirelessly collaborating with local volunteer organizations, particularly from Makran division, including Kech and Panjgoor, as well as across Balochistan, to provide blankets, lentils, and food to the victims,” the chair continued.

Kalmati also revealed personal hardships, stating that his own residence is submerged in water. Despite efforts to evacuate people in the Mullah Band ward and clear drains, obstacles were encountered, with marine guards preventing access. “This treatment implies a neglect of locals in favor of Gwadar’s interests,” he lamented.

While municipalities are typically suited for small towns, Gwadar’s status as a major port city necessitates planning by the Government Development Authority (GDA). Local issues such as urban planning are thus taken out of the local government’s hands. To many local residents, the prioritization of CPEC over Gwadar’s own interests was a direct contributor to the massive damage done by the floods.

“The main reason behind the destruction of Gwadar’s facilities is the blockage of water pathways, resulting in water accumulation in the city. Currently, the situation has reached a critical point where every household is submerged in water. The water should have been directed towards the sea, but instead, a road was constructed along the coast for Chinese, the [Pakistan] Coast Guard, and other agencies, which acted as a barrier and halted the water flow,”  according to Subatiyllah Baloch, a member of the Baloch Yakjethi committee ( BYC).

He further added that if people had been allowed to create small paths near the road using tractors, the floods in Gwadar would not have been less devastating.

“The tragedy is that the road responsible for the damage does not even grant permission for travel to the residents of Gwadar; it’s solely for the use of Chinese, military, and other such entities,” he added.

According to a representative from the Gwadar municipal government, while people in Gwadar are currently assisting each other, marine and other Pakistani authorities are hindering their efforts by not providing them with access. The more destruction occurs in Gwadar, the more funds these authorities will receive later on in the name of Gwadar, which is a crucial source of employment for Balochistan. 

After taking oath as a member of the Balochistan provincial assembly, Maulana Hidayat Ul Rehman, leader of the Haq Do Tehreek movement, arrived in Gwadar without attending the inaugural assembly. “The people of Gwadar have stood by me in times of joy and sorrow. I have come here to stand by them in their time of need,” he stated. According to the MPA, rainwater has inundated houses in Gwadar, reaching depths of 5 to 6 feet, with no relief in sight.

National Party Senator Muhammad Tahir Bizinjo, in a Senate address, highlighted the issue of inadequate supplies and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of the torrential rain that devastated the city. He criticized the slow and ineffective response of the  National Disaster Management Authority, PDMA Balochistan, and the district administration for their poor performance.

Additionally, Bizinjo brought to the attention of the Senate chairman the alarming situation of looting of rehabilitation and relief funds and items intended for flood victims. He expressed concerns that the assistance would not reach the genuine flood-affected victims. Furthermore, he raised alarm about the outbreak of epidemics in the area, with many individuals contracting cholera and diarrhea.

Devastation in Kech

Kech district, situated approximately 156 kilometers southwest of Gwadar, has also borne the brunt of recent torrential rains. The largest district in southern Balochistan, Kech has experienced significant devastation, with reports from the PDMA indicating the complete destruction of five houses and partial damage to 20 others. Additionally, two roads and one bridge have been damaged by flooding. Rescue operations have managed to save two individuals, but areas like Tump, Mand, Dasht, and Blueda have been severely impacted. The collapse of the bridge at Rohdubun has cut off Tehsil Tump and Mand from the district headquarters, exacerbating the situation.

Despite claims by Municipal Committee chairman Hothman Baloch about distributing aid, including rations, lentils, and blankets, affected residents refute these assertions. “We pleaded with MPA Meena Majeed to urge the government to declare an emergency in the district, given the extensive damages and collapsed houses, but in vain,” remarked a resident from Mand Tehsil.

The village of Gumazi in Tehsil Tump bore the brunt of the rainfall, with numerous houses washed away by the flooding river. However, residents lament the absence of government support or rehabilitation efforts. The loss of crops and livestock adds to the distress, leaving farmers questioning whether they will ever receive compensation for their losses.

“Like previous years, our crops are completely destroyed. Compensation is minimal, and repairs are carried out with the help of relatives,” expressed a farmer from Dasht. Criticism also extended to elected officials, with residents feeling neglected except during election seasons.

In response to the crises in Gwadar and Kech, residents have organized a fundraising camp at Shaheed Fida Ahmed Chowk to support flood-affected individuals.

In a noteworthy development, even while the flooding was devastating coastal Balochistan, Abdul Malik Baloch, a newly elected MPA and former chief minister of Balochistan staged a walkout from the inaugural provincial assembly session. 

“Our ex-chief minister and MPA walked out, alleging electoral rigging. Given that he hails from the same Makran division, we expected him to address the recent floods in Gwadar and his home district,” remarked fellow MPA Ubaidullah Gorgaig. Baloch’s decision to contest (unsuccessfully) for a National Assembly seat in the district representing both Kech and Gwadar adds another layer of complexity to the situation.

As both Gwadar and Kech District grapple with the aftermath of natural disasters, the resilience of communities and the responsiveness of authorities remain under scrutiny. To mitigate the damages caused by rain and floods in Gwadar, several solutions can be implemented. First, improving drainage systems and constructing proper channels to divert excess water away from residential areas can help prevent flooding in the future. Additionally, investing in robust infrastructure such as reinforced bridges and roads will help withstand heavy rainfall and prevent collapse. Implementing early warning systems and educating the community about evacuation procedures can ensure swift response and reduce loss of life. Furthermore, planting trees and vegetation can help absorb excess water and stabilize soil, reducing the risk of landslides. 

Collaborating with relevant authorities and stakeholders to develop comprehensive disaster preparedness plans tailored to Gwadar’s specific geographic and climatic conditions is crucial for effective mitigation of flood-related damages.