It is not only the Pakistani government but local councils and water resource planning authorities in all the countries in South Asia which have supported such ‘straight-jacketing’ of rivers.Yet each human interference into a natural river system has its consequence: when excessive amounts of water are drawn out of its channel, a river channel becomes less efficient and loses its ability to quickly move the water.
When levees are built along the banks, the sediments get deposited on the river bed, which gradually rises above the surrounding plains.
Not only does this enhance the flood risk, the levees standing as walls also make it difficult for the floodwater to return back into the channel once it has spilled over.
With funding from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, a series of barrages have been built along the hill slopes to prevent their waters from reaching the Indus.
When many of these barrages failed, they added waters to the already inflated Indus and contributed to further worsening of the flood situation.
Given the immensity of the downpours, some flooding was inevitable.
Yet rivers are essentially channels to drain out water; being one of the largest rivers of the world, the Indus should have been able to carry out the excess waters into the Arabian Sea which it joins near Karachi.
Water planning as it has been practised in Pakistan certainly carries benefits for some segments of the rural communities, specifically those rich farmers who own the farming lands.
When key pieces of infrastructure such as barrages fail, however, innumerable people’s lives can be plunged into utter distress.
Engineers and water planners have often given insufficient consideration to the sediment load that gets carried within the banks of the river channel, and through the interventions of their infrastructure they exacerbated this year’s flood.
They created a false sense of security amongst the rural peasants, whose lives and livelihoods were washed away in the floods.