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Wars reign over breaching levees as Pakistan grapples with flooding

By Sara Sidner, CNN
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Pakistanis battle over levees
  • Residents take up arms to prevent their cities from flooding
  • Some who live upstream say levee must be purposely breach to save land
  • Others disagree, saying it should be broken downstream

Mehar, Pakistan (CNN) -- Ahmed Raza Chandio is a civilian with a lot to lose. He is ready to do whatever it takes to save his home and land, so he stands stick straight, shotgun strapped on his shoulder, and his eyes fixed on the long stretch of levee he is standing on.

The levee is the only thing between his home and farmland, and the rising floodwaters that have wiped out entire towns and villages on the other side.

However, those who live upstream say the levee Chandio is protecting must be purposely breached to save their homes and land upstream.

Chandio and thousands of his neighbors are aware of the argument. Some have taken up arms to protect Mehar, in northwest Pakistan, from the worst flooding in the country's history.

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"We will fight for our security," Chandio said. "We don't care who is on the other side. Our children and women are here how can we let them drown?"

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Those upstream share similar sentiments. They say the dam should be broken downstream to save everything they own.

Rustam Ali Sheikh is standing, the road beneath him breaking apart.

A bridge has buckled and fallen into the water, and an entire village on the other side of the levee is submerged in water.

If there is no outlet for the water, he's certain his city of 100,000 that is upstream of Mehar will be flooded.

"They should exit water from that side. They should find a way so we can be saved, our city could be saved."

His city is Nasirabad.

Next to him on the levee, more than a dozen men argue that authorities should break it downstream because that would return the water to its natural flow.

Such arguments have been going on all over Pakistan as residents try to deal with the floods.

The fight over where to direct the water when it's possible is pitting citizen against citizen, province against province and local politician against local politician -- even those affiliated with the same party.

The question the government has to keep asking itself is which cities to save and which to let the floodwaters destroy.

Back in Mehar, huge trucks stuffed with rope beds and families roll out of town.

If they make the cut in the levee, definitely we will be drowned.
--Abul Gaffar Sheikh
  • Pakistan

Most residents aren't taking up arms, but they are uprooting their families for fear the dispute will go against them.

Hamida Solangi sits on the back of a huge truck tangled between her family and as many belongings as they could fit.

Tears stream down her face as she sputters out her sorrows while the truck moves slowly down the road atop the levee.

"If water comes how will we save our children? Where are we supposed to go now? We have no hope. It is all up to destiny now."

Mehar's city administrator, Abul Gaffar Sheikh, watches as the people he is charged with overseeing pack up and leave.

He stands on a tower looking down at the city and surrounding area where about 200,000 people live.

"If they make the cut in the levee, definitely we will be drowned. If there is not a cut we have a chance to be saved, Sheikh said.

He thinks engineering experts should help decide. But in the end, he said, he intends to win the argument.

The fights have become so vicious, President Asif Ali Zardari called an emergency meeting of local leaders to make a decision.

They didn't have much time.

The water was rising fast and threatening to burst through the levee without any help from the human beings squabbling over where to breach it.

Overnight, a decision was made to breach the levee upstream of Mehar. Mehar residents thought their town would be saved. But the water levels continued to rise to the point where the levee also had to be cut near their town.

Residents are now under an emergency evacuation order as water was rushing toward their city and surrounding villages. The misery of Pakistan's floods is far from over more than a month after the initial floods started tearing apart lives.

Suhail Latif Memon contributed to this report