In several places, the Indus River is already overflowing on the banks and if the Sukkur dam fails to control the flow of water, a disaster is to be feared in Pakistan.
The fate of hundreds of thousands of people in southern Pakistan, particularly affected by the torrential rains that are battering the country, depends on a 90-year-old dam controlling the mighty Indus River, with one of the largest irrigation systems in the world.
Faced with exceptional monsoon rains that have killed more than a thousand people and affected more than 33 million inhabitants, many of whom derive their livelihood from the Indus River, the Pakistani government has declared a state of emergency.
In the province of Sindh, in the south of the country, after the bad weather which fell down for weeks by causing the flooding of the cultures, it is the behavior of the Indus which is scrutinized. The river is fed by torrents swollen by the rivers that tumble down the mountains located further north.
With its source in Tibet, the Indus, which crosses India then Pakistan before flowing into the Arabian Sea, provides 90% of Pakistan’s water supply, according to the UN.
Essential for the life of many inhabitants, the river can also take back all that it has given.
“All this water coming into the river scares us,” Irshad Ali, a 42-year-old farmer, told AFP who laments the loss of date palms and vegetable plots due to the monsoon.
In several places, the Indus already overflows on the banks and if the Sukkur dam fails to control the flow of water, a disaster is to be feared.
Once built by the British Empire, the dam was considered an engineering marvel, capable of discharging 1.4 million cubic meters of water per second through 19 hinged steel gates between stone pillars.
Risk of overflow
The dam redistributes the water in almost 10,000 kilometers of canals which distribute the water on the agricultural lands, but which after years of neglect no longer allow to treat the record volumes recorded today.
“The silt accumulated and could not be removed,” the minister explained, adding that due to a lack of equipment, the canals have not been dredged since 2010.
The accumulation of layers of silt several meters thick hinders the flow of water, causing a risk of overflowing the Indus.
On Sunday, engineers were working to reinforce a major dike threatened by the flooding river.
Water has already invaded the streets of Sukkur by seeping through the walls of buildings that line the main road from Bandar along the dam.
“The city is already one meter below the level of the river,” said the Minister of Water Resources.
“This dike is solid, the machine is operational and the staff is on alert,” said operations supervisor Shahid Hussain.
“The weather is on our side,” he added, explaining that the floods caused by the rains that fell locally should have subsided when the waves from the north arrive.
But if it rains again, the situation could quickly change. “Fortunately, no rain is expected in the next few days,” said Minister Sayed Khurshid Shah.