World Bank's Pakistan flood-control plan faulty

World Bank pulled up for aid to flood control programmes in Pakistan

By Himanshu Upadhyaya
Published: Friday 15 December 2006

World Bank's Pakistan flood-control plan faulty

-- A World Bank-funded flood control project in southern Pakistan was replete with design errors, violated several operational policies and directives and resulted into devastating flood disasters putting downstream people at risk, concluded a recent report by Inspection Panel, bank's own independent investigative body.

The investigation was initiated by the panel following request by affected people whose livelihoods were adversely impacted due to National Drainage Project (ndp) which was in conjunction with earlier bank-assisted irrigation projects in southern Pakistan. The findings of the panel report confirms in unambiguous terms that the bank's approach to the water sector in Pakistan has a narrow focus on economic benefits of irrigation, while neglecting ecological and social implications.

The panel says, "In the Indus basin, there is an asymmetry of costs and benefits of the irrigation and drainage system. In general, the upstream abstracters of the waters who use it for the irrigation receives the benefits while downstream people mostly in Thatta and Badin districts in Sindh province incur the costs."

Launched in 1997, us $785 million ndp was aimed at addressing water logging and salinity in the Indus basin and it was partly funded by International Development Assistance. The project crucially depended on the functioning of the Left Bank Outfall Drain (lbod) and Tidal Link. Investigation by the panel found that the system of drains, levees and tidal link was designed to cope with storms of severity that occurred once in five years only. When in 1999, the cyclone hit the link; it couldn't withstand the devastating damage. According to the Inspection Panel, the alignment of the drainage canals was "technically and environmentally risky", and "technical mistakes were made during the design" of the canals.

The panel says without mincing words, "The lbod system, combined with the partial destruction of the tidal link, has heightened the risk to local people from flooding... Floods during monsoon rains in 2003 led to the loss of many lives. In addition, increased salinity has affected large tracts of agricultural land and the tidal link failure has led to major harms to the dhands wetlands, wildlife and fisheries. People in these areas also face serious problems of drinking water and have lost grazing lands."

The panel says that "Rising salinity in the dhand s, in particular, is compromising their biological integrity: birds and waterfowl are suffering, distinctive vegetation is being lost, and there has been a major decrease in yields and species composition of the fishery."

It also points out that the bank "failed to identify and assess critical environmental concerns" in southern Sindh and the impact of the drainage scheme on the coastal wetlands amounted to "a significant conversion or degradation", violating bank's own policy directive on wetland ecosystem and habitat. It concludes that "to a very large degree" the damages have not been redressed and "many of the same conditions that led to these harms are still in place".

While the bank management conceded that mistakes were made, it has responded by trying to belittle the findings of the panel. It reflects very poorly on the part of bank management that it has tried to give a clean chit to the said project by arguing, "criticism of the project is misplaced since the main drainage system was inherited from the work done in 1980s". The management response paper also tries to brush off owning responsibility for flood disaster in 2003 that claimed more than 300 lives by calling it a "freak phenomenon of storms".

In response to the panel report, ActionAid Pakistan and International Rivers Network (irn) say that the World Bank continues to turn a blind eye to the impacts of its projects on the ground. Civil society groups demanded that the bank pay reparations to address the grievances of the affected people, and that it stop financing large dams and canal projects in Pakistan. According to Mustafa Talpur of Action Aid Pakistan, "There must be a comprehensive plan for protection, promotion and restoration of livelihood sources such as agriculture land, livestock, fisheries, grazing areas and forests."

Ann-Kathrine Schneider of irn described the action plan suggested and approved by the Directors of the Bank at meeting that took place on October 31, 2006 as a mere fig leaf. Commenting on it, she writes, "The Southern Pakistan Water Management Action Plan expose the unwillingness of the bank to use its resources to address the legacy of its failed development interventions and to listen to the demands of the affected people."

Himanshu Upadhyaya is associated with Intercultural Resources based in Delhi

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