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The Indus Indictment Submitted to the World Bank

16 October 2010

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The Indus Indictment

October 14, 2010

Submitted by Sindhu Bachao Tarla to the World Bank, Islamabad

This is not the first time that we, the Taunsa Barrage victims, are observing peaceful hunger strike in front of the World Bank Office. The first such hunger strike was held in February 2007. At that time, our main demand was the establishment of an independent investigation commission on the World Bank financed Taunsa Barrage Emergency Rehabilitation and Modernization Project (TBERM). The project loan was approved on an emergency basis, the justification that catastrophic barrage failure could occur in the near future. We asked the Bank to mandate the proposed investigation commission to ascertain the necessity and appropriateness of engineering interventions in the name of rehabilitating and remodelling Taunsa Barrage. Further we informed the Bank that the project had displaced hundreds of families, destroyed river environment, but also warned that the flooding problems would be exacerbated in the future owing to flawed engineering interventions. However, our concerns were dismissed by the World Bank. Years of watching and living with the river and the barrage deemed insufficient knowledge by your technicians.

Today we are again holding a hunger strike to inform the Bank that the rehabilitation and remodelling works financed under its project failed to avert the risk of barrage failure. Rather, the evidence on the ground shows that the numerous ’faulty’ engineering interventions directly contributed to barrage failure and thus caused the unprecedented flood disaster in Muzaffargarh District. The flooding in Muzaffargarh District began with the breach in Abbasswala Bund. As a result, with an unknown number of lives lost, 2 million people were displaced, their crops, animals, houses and other sources of livelihoods washed away.

The breach at the left bank marginal bund was not the natural one. Rather, the breach was caused by a number of factors linked to the rehabilitation and remodelling project. The peak flood flows were obstructed by the coffer dams largely left in place upon project completion. These coffer dams were constructed to manage flood flows temporarily to carry out repair and remodelling works in the active bed channel. It was assumed the gigantic quantities of soil would be washed away naturally or through barrage de-silting functions. However, the existence of coffer dams turned out to be the main structural obstacle to disrupt river flows, diverting them towards the east bank of the Indus River.

Further, the operational rules of the barrage were to be revised after the installation of the computerized gates and remodelling. It was an intrinsic part of the project objectives to provide the relevant barrage staff with the necessary training on the revised operational rules of the barrage. With the failure to open eight barrage gates one wonders as to effectiveness of the training that the irrigation staff received.

Under the project, the WB was supposed to improve the river training works. The height of the flood protection embankments was to be raised in correspondence with the raised crust level of the barrage floor. However, raising the height of flood protection embankments never materialized.

The hill-torrents from Suleiman Range discharging into the Indus River cause heavy amounts of silt deposition in the upstream of the barrage. It adversely impacts drainage through the barrage. We have consistently pointed out this factor with the World Bank. Once again ignoring local knowledge, in its technical arrogance, the Bank failed to consider the silt deposition factor in its project design.

To put it simply the remodelled and modernized barrage, its associated works, was a significant, in fact, the major, cause of the flooding of Muzaffargarh district.

Our claims

We are observing this hunger strike to claim the following:

1. The establishment of an independent investigation commission to ascertain the specific causes of the structural failure of Taunsa Barrage.

2. We believe the judicial enquiry currently undertaken at the Lahore High Court , on embankment breaches and other aspects of the Indus floods in Punjab, should be an open, public hearing and official reports and data submitted should be accessible by all. Its current secretive modality is unacceptable.

3. The World Bank should cancel the payment of the project loan in order to allocate it entirely for flood recovery and reconstruction in Muzaffargarh District. The urgent demand in this regard is the commitment to prepare the second resettlement plan for two hundred families displaced during the project. They are now once again displaced due to the barrage failure.

4. Both the World Bank and Asian Development Bank are steering the Flood Damages and Needs Assessment (FDNA). We protest against the sheer lack of consultation with the flood affected groups and their participation in this process.

5. In damages and needs assessment process, the World Bank should recommend the Punjab Government to impose flood tax on urban property and other sources of wealth. If the Bank fails to do so, it will be understood that the Bank is only concerned in increasing its own disbursements.