GUEST BLOG by Muhammad Ali Shah, Dr. Aly Ercelan & Roshan Bhatti
Sindh Peoples Caravan March 1-14, 2017 Protect Our Rivers and Delta
Across the world the greed of capitalism has created water crises. Asia in general and South Asia in particular is no exception. This region is marred with complex and multidimensional aspects of water crises. Not only the brute availability of water has declined, but also the health of water bodies has been badly affected. A deep probe into the issue reveals that water crisis has been created by weak and deliberate mal-governance. Both wrong incentives and lack of penalties have led to major ecological disasters. These include deforestation, destruction of wetlands, dumping of industrial waste into waterways, construction of dams, overexploitation of the major river systems, corporate control on water resources and unplanned urbanization due to increasing population pressure.
All these issues pose serious threats to life and health of people and water systems of South Asian River Systems, including Indus river system. Our analysis reveals that anti-human and anti-environment policies have been applied and imposed in South Asia with the same rapacity as colonial powers did to impose control over citizens. Post-independence, growth policies have become excuses for privatization and in favor of corporate monopolies rather than protection of the commons for public welfare. Among regions around the world, South Asia is the second number in the construction of large dams. Pursuing neo-colonial control over natural resources, the ecological consequences have become hazardous to life and livelihood.
Our situation will inevitably worsen without cooperative trans-boundary water governance that goes beyond the Indus Waters Treaty. South Asian basins hydro-logically depend on China. The main river systems, the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra are all connected to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. The headwaters of all these rivers, except the main Ganga River, rise within a few hundred kilometres of each other, in the south western region of the Tibetan plateau. China has various ongoing designs of dam construction and hydropower plants. In November 2010, China officially confirmed the construction of the 510MW Zangmu hydropower project at Gyaca County in the Shannan Prefecture of TAR. Reportedly, five other dams are under consideration on the river and its tributaries. Similarly India has many such plans.
Transboundary governance must also be informed by the deadly nature of coal plants. No nation in the region can become better in isolation. Banning all coal power plants on rivers and on coast in Pakistan will still bring suffering for Pakistan if other South Asian countries continue with their deadly plans for massive expansion of coal energy. The impacts will not be limited directly through shared oceans and river basins. Indirectly but substantial adverse impacts will be unavoidable through the production of acid rain from coal pollution. Furthermore, any increase in global warming will affect Pakistan when other countries in the region including China expand carbon emissions in rising fossil fuel consumption, and by methane emissions in additional storage dams.
The World Bank President must be listened to very seriously in his warning, “if the entire (Asian) region implements the coal-based plans right now, I think we are finished. That would spell disaster for us and our planet.”
In Context of Pakistan and especially Sindh province, among the multiple water issues, drastic decrease of water (and enriching silt) for the Indus Delta downstream of Kotri Barrage is an intolerable fact. Continuing with various plans of dams and diversions on Indus River by our national government as well as neighboring countries is a continuing assault on the ecology of the Indus Basin. We must recognize it as a threat of the highest order, even when producing hydropower is the defense.
In continuation with the PFF’s yearly campaign for the restoration for River Indus and Indus Delta, the PFF has decided to organize Sindh Awami Caravan (The route map of the Caravan is given below) in the form of a 14-Day long campaign that will start from March 1, 2017 and will culminate on March 14, 2017 in the form of a massive people’s assembly that will be participated by thousands of peoples fishing and peasant communities, civil society members, academia, government officials, media and other stakeholders.
The 2017 Sindh Awami Caravan will be carried out under the theme; Protection of our rivers and delta. Taking into consideration the aims and objectives of the Caravan, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum has planned to highlight the restoration of rivers in general in the River Indus in particular, the fresh water flow of 35 MAF Kotri downstream, the protection of Indus Delta and provision of fresh water in all the inland fresh water natural lakes. The PFF demands that the natural flow of rivers especially River Indus be restored.
In order to ensure the success of Sindh Awami Caravan for the restoration of Rivers and Delta, an awareness campaign has been carried out from February 11 to February 28, 2017.
The PFF believes that by the building dams and barrages, the government has diverted the natural flow of the River Indus, destroyed the rivers’ ecology, displaced the helpless people whose livelihood depended on the river, destroyed the bio-diversity of the Indus Delta in the name of national interest and sustainable development. Therefore the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum denounces all the destructive and coercive polices that have brought about such destruction to the people of Pakistan.
The PFF strongly feels that there is dire need that the River Indus must be restored so that the River flow from start to tail end following the natural consistent flow and that the biodiversity and ecology of the River Indus, the people and their livelihood is restored.
The Vision 2025 of Pakistan clearly indicates that the existing flow of water of rivers will be diverted through building various mega schemes for water conservation for energy and agricultural purposes. Such decisions and policies based on vested political interests will further aggravate the socio-economic conditions of the voiceless deltaic communities of the Sindh.
A large water share of the River Indus utilized for the agricultural and human consumption of Punjab Province. Resultantly, the lower end of the River Indus that used to be termed as the “Mighty River Indus” has been reduced to the level of canal shows only tiny inconsistent storage of water. Such a massive destruction of the River Indus has led to the death of livelihood of the deltaic people. These people have depended on fishing and the River are compelled to cut wood for earning some money and buy drinking using their earnings. What a pity it is see the people who are entitled to the basic right of water but are denied their rights.
The Pakistan government has been planning to build more dams on Indus River. The PFF believes that the indigenous people along with the other natural habitat have the basic right to use the land and water first. Therefore the water must not be deemed as a private property such privatized of water must not be done in the form buying selling it at the expense of the poor deltaic communities. Water is globally basic human right therefore safeguarding water is a responsibility of all. For an analysis of water being unsafe, we will have to highlight the scarcity of water in national, regional and global contexts. Generating a strong political movement for the protection of water and rivers is the need of the hour so that environment and the livelihood of the poor masses could be save and that the commercial use of water is stopped. Rivers throughout the world are being diverted through massive dam and barrage building. The anatomy of the rivers is being deformed as the silt and the rivers are being enslaved within dams. Resultantly the most beautiful and large deltas are being eliminated the world over.
It is worth mentioning how the Indus has been exploited through man-made political maneuvers. The Indus Delta is a prominent part of the anatomy of the river Indus created through its rich silt and soil. The River Indus carrying a silt of 400 million tons along with 180 MAF of water
Specific Objectives of this Campaign are:
- To raise awareness among the communities about their water rights and responsibility
- To strongly demand from IRSA for reserving at least 35 MAF water downstream of Kotri for regeneration of Indus Delta
- To explore the factors damaging health of water bodies and rivers and therefore diminish life and livelihood of indigenous people
- To extend strong voice for improved water governance and environment flows of rivers
- To sensitize people for no more dams, no more diversions and no more cuts on Indus River in future
South Asia is the world’s second largest dam building region and the States have brought about destruction and disasters for the under-privileged communities. This has degraded the rivers’ ecology to the extent that the redressing the balance has become an uphill task. Following the footsteps of the same anti-people and environmentally destructive policies, Pakistan has also destroyed the life of the River Indus through the construction of dams and barrages and has displaced the indigenous people leading to the destruction of Indus Delta the consistent human rights violations.
The PFF believes that this must be resisted at any cost. The caravan in the light of the highlighted above is let the suppressed one generate a movement from among themselves so that they can have control of their indigenous rights and entitlements to land and water and their socio-economic, cultural and political rights are safeguarded.