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Pakistan’s food basket flooded, new worry in India

Pakistan authorities save cities by channelling floodwaters to villages and farms, while rain renews flood worries in Indian Kashmir more than ten days after the valley was inundated by swollen rivers
<p>Villagers have travelled to Islamabad to press for better compensation for their land (Photo by Jon Martin)</p>

Villagers have travelled to Islamabad to press for better compensation for their land (Photo by Jon Martin)

With livestock carcasses rotting in flooded streets, fears of epidemic grew in the Kashmir valley, even as already-swollen rivers and lakes started rising again due to fresh rainfall. More rain was expected on Monday. Meanwhile, as the original flood surge moved to southern Punjab in Pakistan, the authorities saved major cities like Multan by flooding villages and farms.

In India, army and civilian rescuers have already moved over 184,000 people from their marooned homes in Kashmir and in Rajouri and Poonch areas of Jammu. Still, relief efforts were falling far short of requirements, and anger was growing, especially against the Jammu and Kashmir state government, which has been conspicuous by its absence.

In the state’s inundated summer capital Srinagar, residents started to provide relief to one another as far as they could. The anxiety increased on Sunday as it started raining again, and the local weather office forecast steady rain till at least Wednesday.

India’s central government was rushing medicines and doctors to Srinagar, while worries grew about the situation in smaller settlements in Kashmir and Jammu. One village in the Rajouri area of Jammu had been wiped off the map by a landslide, but the authorities appeared not to know if a similar fate had befallen other villages. Kashmir’s major road link to the rest of India remained cut off.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Multan district has been the focal point of relief and rescue operations. The authorities have been breaching embankments to channel the floodwaters away from major Pakistani cities. This is the way Multan, on the eastern bank of the Chenab river, has been saved. But Muzaffargarh, on the other bank, has been inundated.

Taking in another 80,000 cusecs of water from the Ravi river, Chenab swelled on its way towards Multan on Saturday (September 13) posing a severe threat to towns ahead, especially near Panjnad – where the major tributaries join the Indus.

The floodwater has inundated 120 villages in the riverine belt of the Chenab River and Panjnad head-works in Uch Sharif, displacing almost 70,000 people over the weekend.

English daily Dawn reported that the Saturday night breach at Manjhiwal Bund led to waters moving towards the town of Muzaffar­garh. People began to evacuate the city, and roads to Alipur and Dera Ghazi Khan were choked. Quoting Multan’s district coordination officer, Zahid Saleem Gondal, English daily Express Tribune said as many as 100,000 people had left Muzaffargarh.

Double jeopardy for farmers

In Multan, which is surrounded by vast tracts of agricultural land in one of the country’s major cotton producing areas, the floodwaters rendered thousands homeless, A vast of majority of them are farmers, who saw soon-to-be harvested crops going under water. The market is already seeing a 7% cotton price hike and 20% yarn price hike.

But even if some farms are saved, cotton growers are worried that the crop will become vulnerable to pest attack. High moisture and sluggish water in the field will affect both the quality and quantity of cotton. In its weekly advisory to farmers, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) warned that pest attacks on cotton and sugarcane crops had been reported. It advised farmers worst hit by rain and flooding to remove stagnant water from the cotton and rice fields and spray pesticides to control weeds.

The flood surge, meanwhile, is reaching Panjnad, and there is widespread apprehension that the authorities will repeat their breaching tactics to save urban centres, while villages and farms bear the brunt of the floods. Allaying the fears, the Irrigation Department’s Bahawalpur zonal chief engineer, Malik Khurshid, said that after opening all the spillways of the Panjnad head-works there will be little need of breaching.

Meanwhile, floodwater caused by the breaches at Mohammadwala and Shershah bridges continued to inundate many villages, destroying life and property. According to officials 14 union councils have been affected by the flood in Chenab.