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The Battle of Johi

The Battle of Johi
People in Johi town raised 10-foot ring dyke to save their homes

People in Johi town raised 10-foot ring dyke to save their homes from recent devastating floods

Aamir Latif  

JOHI, Sindh, Pakistan

On Aug. 28, a red alert was issued for some 30,000 residents of a small town called Johi to evacuate as raging floodwaters had already inundated every nook and corner around their homes.

As the swirling floodwater was heading towards Johi, located west of the worst-hit Dadu district of southern Sindh province, the town heard an announcement through loudspeakers.

But, the call was not for evacuation. Instead, the adult male population was asked to reach the “ring dyke” – a 17-kilometer wall in a circle – the residents had constructed in 2010 to save the town from flooding.

The previous successful experience encouraged the inhabitants to make another attempt at saving the town, although the flood this time was massive.

The adjacent Khairpur Nathan Shah town had already been submerged by the devastating floods, which altogether brought a third of Pakistan under water, aside from killing nearly 1,700 people since mid-June.

Slumped on a chair at his utility store in the main Johi bazaar, Nasarullah Jamali recalled the day when some residents opted for evacuation but a majority rushed towards the dyke.

The gushing floodwaters struck the dyke on Sep. 1.

“Only 30% of the residents preferred to leave the town, but the majority, in their thousands, rushed to the dyke as we have only three days and (as many) nights to save our town,” Jamali, who along with his three brothers took part in the reconstruction of the dyke, told Anadolu Agency.

The dyke — constructed 12 years ago — was not well-maintained and required major repairs and consolidation considering the amount of floodwaters heading towards the town.

“Thousands of people reached the dyke within an hour, carrying bags, quilts, pillow covers, everything that can hold the sand, rocks, and dirt,” Jamali went on to say.

‘First 5 days were crucial’

A walk in the Johi bazaar gave an all-normal feeling. Grocery stores and shops were humming with crowds of buyers, the fish and fruit sellers were making loud chants to attract customers, and roadside stalls were full of tea lovers.

Generally, there was no sign of panic, although the Anadolu Agency team managed to reach the town from Dadu by boat.

The only road leading to Johi is still inundated at different points, whereas almost all croplands around the town are under 4-5 feet (over 1 meter) deep water.

Amjad Soomro, a local teacher, and one of the leaders of the move, recalled the night when floodwaters struck the dyke, which was originally 7-foot (over 2 meters) high.

“We had had the 2010 experience with us. Some 11 pickets consisting of 40 people each were formed and assigned along the dyke, mainly the northern side, which was relatively weak,” Soomro said.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency at his tuition center, which he runs in the evening, he said different groups were assigned the task to fill bags, sheets, quilts, and pillow covers with rocks, dirt, and sand.

While, he added, others were sent by boats and vehicles to nearby Dadu city and Bhaan town, which were hit by rains only and relatively clear, to procure bags in maximum numbers.

“None of us could sleep the first two nights as the government authorities had already warned of the deluge rushing towards us, as high as 8 feet (2.5 meters),” he recalled.

The first five days were “crucial” and “difficult,” especially the night of Sep. 4, when the raging floodwater was striking the dyke hard.

The dyke was raised up to 10 feet (3 meters), 2 feet higher than the water level.

“As the water level increased, we would keep raising the dyke height. It was literally like a foot-by-foot rise in water and dyke levels simultaneously,” he maintained.

The “operation to save Johi” lasted for a month and culminated only after the water levels dropped down to 4 feet.

“A mass congregation was held on the dyke, where thanksgiving prayers were offered and the town elders announced the culmination of the operation,” Soomro said.

Women’s role

The 10-foot high dyke forms a circle around the town, hindering the waterway.

Bags filled with sand, rocks, and dirt are crammed between the pieces of wood erected with short gaps on top of the wall in an attempt to save the bags from being washed away.

A massive lake has been formed across the dyke, inundating large swathes of croplands.

Nazeer Ahmad, who runs a stationery shop, was full of praise for Johi women.

“Politicians across party lines, lawyers, teachers, farmers, and shopkeepers, everyone played a role in the successful struggle, but the role of women was extraordinary,” Ahmad observed.

He said the local women not only encouraged their men to take part in the repair and reconstruction of the dyke but they themselves joined hands in the successful attempt.

“Many of them joined us and helped in filling the bags, while others voluntarily assumed the task to cook food for the men working on the dyke,” he went on to say.

The old people and those who were not able to do the hard labor remained helpful in bringing and distributing food, he added.

“The hustle-bustle you are witnessing here is because of our brave people, particularly women, who instead of fleeing chose to fight back the deluge. And they made it despite there being no government help,” Ahmad maintained.


Courtesy: Aamir Latif/ Anadolu Agency (Published on 19.10.2022)


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