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Story Publication logo March 26, 2024

Sindh’s Burden: Flooding and Poor Urban Planning



Pakistan’s poor urban planning and drainage system causes a cycle of infrastructural destruction...

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Long Khan, aged 70, says that the flood came at four in the morning. He and his family had to move to a camp for two months and lost everything. Image by DFID/Russell Watkins / Wikimedia Commons. Pakistan, 2010.

Flooding and poor urban planning have caused pockets of Hindu climate migrants to relocate from Sindh’s center.

Mohini Prakash, 53, holds her hometown, Umerkot, dear to her heart. Rich with heritage, it is the only city in Pakistan with a non-Muslim majority. In the Umerkot Taluka (administrative district), 54.5% of the population comprises Hindus and scheduled castes combined. 

Prakash saw the city progressively become more and more affected by the rain over the years. Umerkot is located in the south of Sindh and it borders the Tharparkar desert. Hence, the city has not always experienced heavy rainfall. Since the 2000s, Sindh’s drier regions have been no stranger to climate change, receiving increasing amounts of precipitation. 

During the monsoon season in 2011, the city received a record-breaking 806 mm of rain. In 2023, the impact of cyclone Biparjoy caused torrential rains and thunderstorms across the region.

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“In Umerkot, there is so much water now that children and animals drown and die,” Prakash said, adding that the floodwater takes months to dry out. 

One possible explanation for the increasing flooding in Umerkot is the increasing amount of precipitation it has been experiencing over the past year. However, this does not cover the entirety of why rural Sindh now experiences floods.

Heat map shows yearly precipitation in Umerkot. Image courtesy of Mishaal Hasan Shirazi and Sarah Shamim. 2024.

'A Failure of Infrastructure'

A possible infrastructural explanation for the severe damage caused by floods to the city is a drainage canal project called the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD). The World Bank funded the construction of the LBOD in 1997. 

The project, which took 10 years to complete, aimed to support drainage in the catchment area of the Indus River’s left bank delta channel, called the Old Nara River. The project included the construction of a spinal drain and tidal link, intended to drain upstream water from the regions of Nawabshah, Sanghar, and Mirpurkhaas. 

These regions are in the center of the Sindh Province. The water would then be channeled into the Kadhan Pateji Outfall Drain and the Dhoro Puran Outfall Drain, projects of the irrigation department. This Tidal Link Canal was to finally drain into the Arabian Sea. 

Environmental lawyer Rafay Alam said the plan initially received resistance from the original inhabitants of the regions, who had pointed out that the water does not flow in the direction that the Tidal Link intends to follow. 

Calling the project a failure of infrastructure, Alam said the lesson learned is that Indigenous people should be heard when planning and developing policies. Ever since the canal's construction, Alam’s sentiments have been echoed by residents, urban planners, activists, and academics. 

Research shows that the project was started before enough analysis was carried out about the situation and its social and environmental risks. The design of the Tidal Link Canal was faulty as it defied the flow of the natural waterways, and the drain had a low discharge capacity. Additionally, the drain was unlined, which would cause breaches in nearby areas, including Umerkot. 

Instead of flowing into the sea, the salty effluent would overflow into the regions of Sindh, causing the very floods it was designed to prevent. This overflow resulted in deaths, and destruction of agricultural land and livestock in areas such as Badin and Thatta. Cotton and rice crops, which were the primary source of income for many rural farmer families, were damaged. Areas in rural Sindh that had not experienced flooding before now experience flooding due to the LBOD’s design flaws

In recent years, the province has struggled with a water shortage because water is not being released into the sea. The Badin district of Sindh was hit very hard during the 2022 floods as residents lost their loved ones and belongings. 

The community in Badin is vulnerable and its residents have been asking for a role in decisions related to the drainage system for the past decade. For reference, 23.893% of Badin’s population comprises religious minorities, including 388,286 Hindus. While Muslims in Sindh are also affected by developmental flaws that have increased flooding, the province is home to nearly all of Pakistan’s Hindus as 93% of the country’s Hindus are concentrated in the province. Rural Sindh contains specific pockets of Hindu farmer and fisherfolk communities, who have now become vulnerable to climatic disaster. 

Hindu Climate Migrants From Interior Sindh

Those affected by the demolition are not the only ones displaced by the floods. Due to increasing flooding in interior Sindh over the years, many villages become uninhabitable and residents migrate to Karachi. Muhammad Toheed, the Associate Director of Karachi Urban Lab, a research organization focusing on Karachi’s urban planning, explained that the displaced population from flood-affected parts of Sindh also do not feel welcome in Karachi. 

The arriving migrants were divided into two groups: One group registered themselves as flood affectees at Karachi toll plaza, located on the motorway that links Hyderabad and Karachi. This group was provided with relief camps as accommodations. Toheed said these were local schools turned relief camps. The other group did not register themselves as affectees and stayed with their relatives and community. 

Several families in the latter group were Hindus who ended up settling in Hindu settlements such as Shanti Nagar, in the eastern division of the city in Dalmia.

“Right below the Teen Hatti flyover is Ilyas Goth, a "jhuggi-jhopri" (house made with bricks, mud, and thatched roofs) cluster.” Toheed added other examples, including Hawkes Bay Sector 7. He explained that the affectees chose to settle in those specific areas that were segregated based on religion because they were home to their extended relatives and village kin. These relatives had arrived during the floods in 2010 and 2011

One such example of the settlements is in an area around the Super Highway at Sohrab Goth that is locally called Sindh Abad. According to Toheed, residents claim that 6,000 climate migrants live in Sindh Abad. A large number of these migrants are Hindu. A majority of them migrated during 2010, and more arrived in the community during the 2020 and 2022 floods. Despite residents migrating to the city, the communities are in inadequately developed mud and bamboo houses, remaining vulnerable to weather extremes. They also lack access to necessities such as clean drinking water, electricity, or natural gas. 

Many families from Sindh Abad cross the Super Highway to fetch water from a water pump. Toheed told of a time when the Karachi Urban Lab had to cancel a focus group meeting with the flood affectees in the area. Two girls from the community went to cross the Super Highway to fetch water and were hit by a vehicle. One passed away, and the other sustained injuries that caused physical disabilities.

“These issues are not reported in the news,” Toheed said. “We find out when we are on-ground. For them, getting water is a life risk and so many times they have experienced loss.” 

The houses in these communities are not resilient enough to withstand heavy rainfall. Toheed said that the people are in survival mode. The Ilyas Goth community is right by the Lyari riverbed. When it rains and the water level rises, residents pick up whatever belongings they can and sit at the Teen Hatti bridge, for as long as 12 hours. 

The community members end up repairing what is washed away with whatever resources they have. Sometimes, they must start from scratch and rebuild their houses. 


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Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
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Migration and Refugees

Migration and Refugees
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