Ramsar Advisory Mission to Pakistan

Ramsar Advisory Mission to Pakistan

19 November 2012

From 29 October to 5 November 2012, a Ramsar Advisory Mission was organised to the middle stretches of the Indus River to provide advice on how the Ramsar Sites that lie along the main river and the adjacent floodplains could be restored and managed to increase their flood water storage capacity as a response to the devastating floods that took place in August 2010.

Farming in the floodplain of the Indus River

The Indus River is one of the major river systems in the world and the people of Pakistan have evolved to become intricately dependent on the river for water, food and supporting their livelihood. The annual monsoon rains have traditionally heralded floods of varying degrees that bring nutrient rich silt to the agricultural land on either side of the river, making the land highly productive. However, in August 2010, an exceptionally heavy rainfall in the upper catchment of the Indus River (and its tributaries such as the Swat River) caused the water to rise and rush downstream in one of the highest floods since the mid-1970s. When the waters reached the Taunsa Barrage in the middle part of the river, a number of the embankments were breached, and the ensuing rush of water destroyed lives, homes and farmland.

Irrigation channel taking water from the Indus River to farmland

After the floods, a number of national inquiries took place to identify why the damage was so severe, and to provide recommendations on how such damage can be prevented in future. There was a feeling in some quarters that traditional ‘hard engineering’ flood responses by constructing further dams and embankments was not necessarily the only solution, and that ‘soft engineering’ techniques should also be investigated. This would include restoring the natural flood storage capacity of the floodplain by remodelling existing embankments so that they can allow passage of particularly high flow; removal of illegal structure in the floodplains, including illegal embankments; restoring old river channels and ponds adjacent to the river that have silted up over time etc.

Lal Suhanra National Park

During the mission, the RAM team was accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Climate Change and WWF Pakistan, and held meetings with representatives from a number of government agencies with responsibilities for dealing with water and flood control. These included the Federal Flood Commission; National, and Provincial Disaster Management Authority; Water and Power Development Authority; Irrigation Department; Provincial Wildlife Department of Punjab and of Sindh; and the Meteorological Office. They also visited the Indus Dolphin Reserve Ramsar Site and the wetland at the Lal Suhanra National Park. The former lies between the Guddu and Sukkur Barrages along the mainstream of the Indus River, whilst the latter some distance away from the Indus River but is fed by water from the river via canals.

Members of the RAM. (l. to r. Dr Chen Zhang, Dr Xinqiao Zhang, Mr. Inamullah Khan)

At the end of the RAM, the team attended a de-briefing session for all the related government agencies and presented their preliminary recommendations. These included:

  • Identification of a number of potential sites along the Indus River, including Ramsar Sites, which could be suitable for pilot restoration projects. However, there would first need to be discussions with the local farmers, landowners and government bodies at each site to get their support for the pilot project;
  • Suggestions for a variety of restoration interventions that could take place at the pilot project site once permission has been reached with the local stakeholders;
  • Requesting the Federal Flood Commission that when they conduct their consultancy study in 2013 to develop the 4th National Flood Control Management Plan, to consult widely with all the relevant government agencies working on water and flood related issues. This is so that the final Plan can incorporate all the suggestions for best practice, and that the plan can be an integrated approach to dealing with future flood events and not necessarily to look upon them as misfortune, but as opportunities.
De-briefing session to relevant government agencies at the end of the RAM

Report & pictures by Lew Young, Senior Regional Advisor for Asia-Oceania