The Washington Post
Retaining wall of Pakistan’s largest lake gives way in flood
Hundreds of villages downstream are under up to six feet of water, and irreparable breach is likely to further impede access to those in need of help in crisis
sehvan, pakistan — The retaining wall of Pakistan’s largest lake burst on Tuesday after months of heavy rains, inundating hundreds more villages downstream and threatening to force thousands more from their homes.
The Pakistani government engineered two intentional breaches of Lake Manchar’s retaining wall over the weekend in an effort to ease pressure on the structure, but an irrigation official told The Washington Post that the wall began to crack Tuesday as water levels continued to rise.
A local agricultural department official confirmed the break but said it was unclear whether it occurred because of water pressure or if residents of a nearby town had damaged the wall to divert floodwaters from their area.
Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
“It’s not possible to fix the wall now,” the irrigation official said. He said the government is unable to protect villages in the flood path, and he estimated that families would have four to five hours to evacuate.
Minister of Irrigation Jam Khan Shoro confirmed to The Post the occurrence of the new breach in the flood wall but maintained that no further evacuations would be necessary because all the downstream settlements already had been emptied.
The Pakistani government is already struggling to respond to what has been described as a “catastrophic” crisis, and the Lake Manchar breach is likely to further impede access to those in need. Anger is growing among displaced Pakistanis, hundreds of villages remain underwater, and the people who have made it to dry land are desperately seeking shelter and relief.
Water from the lake could be seen coursing over highways and overflowing drainage canals just north of Sehvan, threatening to cut off a key supply route to some of the country’s hardest-hit villages in Dadu and beyond. Roads leading south were lined with farmers moving their livestock to safety.
Muhammad Nawaz Shahani said government vehicles drove through his village Tuesday morning using loudspeakers to order an immediate evacuation. “They told us to leave our houses at once and to only take our valuables and livestock with us,” he said. He walked with his extended family to an elevated road and then began herding his livestock in search of grazing space.
By evening, the highway was packed with water buffaloes, goats and cows. Some 350 villages around the lake were inundated Tuesday, bringing water levels as high as six feet, according to the irrigation official.
Floodwaters continued to rise into the night, but many families refused to leave their homes, he said.
The unprecedented flooding in Pakistan has killed more than 1,300 people and affected some 33 million since it began in June. Government relief efforts are overwhelmed, although international aid and supplies are starting to enter the country.
The United States, the European Union and Britain have pledged millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to Pakistan in the past week. And the United Nations launched an emergency plan to deliver assistance, but as the waters continue to sweep across the country, the areas in greatest need are increasingly inaccessible.
“This is a mountain of human suffering and a road map of unending tragedy,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-tex.) on a recent visit to the country to survey damage and discuss with Pakistani authorities how U.S. aid money will be spent.
“You have people who have lost their livelihoods and a country that has really lost its heartland,” she said, referring to the millions of acres of crops now in ruin.
“It is our intent that these funds go directly to the people,” she said, adding that Pakistani officials expressed the same commitment. “We are going to have to hold them to their word,” Jackson Lee added.
The Pakistani government must act fast to divert the water escaping Lake Manchar to keep roads open and prevent a massive wave of displacement, the agriculture official said. He said additional controlled breaches must be dug along the lake and more canals constructed to prevent over 100,000 more people from being displaced.
Trucks carrying massive boulders lined up along Sehvan’s main highway — just a few kilometers from the lake’s edge — to build a new retaining wall Tuesday.
Further north, water submerged one of two highways running through the town of Dadu, where thousands who have already fled their villages are seeking refuge, according to Irfan Ali Samo, a senior police official there.
The city, now on high alert, is nearly surrounded by water, Samo said. He doesn’t know what the latest water levels are, “but they are definitely high enough for us to worry.”