Flood Reconstruction Efforts Struggle To Rebuild 58 Bridges In Balochistan

Flood Reconstruction Efforts Struggle To Rebuild 58 Bridges In Balochistan
On 26 August 2023, as heavy rain poured over the Kachhi district, 220,000 cusecs of flood water passed through the Pinjra bridge on river Bolan, along the National Highway connecting the Balochistan to Sindh. The bridge was swept away, cutting off the province from the rest of the country.

As floodwater entered nearby Dhaddar city, four hundred people were trapped in the area. The district administration initiated a rescue operation to save them. They were shifted to a safe place.

This, however, is not the first time that the bridge has been damaged by rains. Local authorities says it had collapsed partially or completely thrice in the last six months.

There is no road from Pinjra bridge to the Bolan tunnel that connects Quetta to Sibi and onwards to Sukkur in Sindh. Discomfort is a constant companion to passengers going through the route that lacks a proper road.

District Kachhi’s population, according to the 2017 census, is 237,000. Situated in central Balochistan, it was known as the Bolan District, home to the historical Bolan Pass, till 2008.

Deputy Commissioner Kachhi Agha Samiullah says that like the Pinjra Bridge, the Bibi Nani Bridge of Bolan was also swept away by the flood waters.

“When the bridges were swept away by rains and floods, traffic from Quetta to Sukkur was stopped and about 6,000 people were trapped on both sides,” he adds.

According to Mujeeb Achakzai, Chief Engineer at Kachhi, the Pinjra bridge no longer existed, and several small bridges lay broken at many places in the Bolan river valley.

“The district administration of Kachhi opened the roads closed due to landslides at various places as soon as the weather was favorable,” he says. “We have made temporary alternative routes at certain places, to ensure that vehicle movement continues.”

According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority Balochistan, a total of 58 bridges, including four in Bolan, were destroyed by the monsoon flooding in 2022.

More than one billion rupees are required to rebuild these bridges, according to the Pakistan Floods 2022 Post-Disaster Need Assessment report.

Land connectivity between Sindh and Balochistan has remained partially closed as the flood-affected National Highway and Pinjra Bridge in Bolan are not fully restored till date.

The flood victims, the locals living in the area, are forced to carry their patients and in case of death, dead bodies of their loved ones and the elderly, through the difficult routes through the Bolan River that is bitterly cold in winters.

In absence of a proper bridge, cargo vehicles get stuck on the route due to which the vegetables and other food items in the vehicles perish.

Karim Ali, a resident of Kachhi who recently travelled with his family from Saraband to Quetta, was forced to take a rocky route on the side of River Bolan.

“This bridge has always been a misery for our people; whenever there is rain, it collapses,” he adds.

Karim says the administration did not take the issue of rebuilding the road seriously and no efforts were being made to ensure that the bridge was secure enough and did not collapse every time floods hit it.

Following the flooding, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited Kachhi in September 2022 to review the reconstruction of Pinjra Bridge. He was briefed about the flood damage and rehabilitation in Kachhi district and informed about the measures taken to restore the flood affected infrastructure including the bridge.

The Prime Minister was informed that reconstruction of Pinjra bridge would be completed keeping disaster risk reduction in view and for that, help of foreign experts would be sought to reconstruct the bridge.

“The National Highway Authority has constructed the Bibi Nani bridge and started rehabilitation work at the Pinjra Bridge site,” says the Deputy Commissioner Kachhi.

He says the restoration and construction work of the National Highway was also started at Derbhi, a locality that was completely washed away by flood.

In every district of the province, the infrastructure has been destroyed in a way that compensation, rehabilitation and reconstruction may not be possible for a long time.

“Global funds are definitely needed for restoration work, which has already begun,” says Chief Minister Balochistan Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo for his part.

He adds, “there is a need for immediate financial support from the federal government for rehabilitation and reconstruction.”

Experts believe that incorporating disaster risk reduction in reconstruction is essential to rebuilding robust infrastructure to minimise losses in future disasters.

Expressing concern over the delay in release of required funds for the projects of Balochistan by the Federal Government, the Chief Minister says that the Prime Minister was deeply interested in the development projects of Balochistan.

It is hoped, he says, that the federal government would provide necessary funds for Balochistan’s highways and bridges and the prime minister would play a role in the release of funds.

“Balochistan is a province with a large area, where the population is less and communication links are long. For better communication, it is necessary to lay a network of roads in the province,” he adds.

The Chief Minister says that the provincial government wanted all road projects of the National Highway Authority to be completed soon. “The speedy completion of the federally supported projects would improve communication links in the province and would have a positive impact on the economy of the province as a whole,” he says.

He further says that there was a need to speed up progress on all ongoing development projects of Balochistan, but ensuring that the reconstructed infrastructure was in accordance with modern techniques including risk disaster reduction was of paramount importance.