Any scheme that further diverts water of the Indus River or Indus Delta should be rejected at the same time that the tail-end of the river must be rehabilitated in order to arrest the total ecological destruction of the region -- these were among the demands of civil society organizations, water experts, researchers, activists, environmentalists, politicians and fishing communities from all over Pakistan at the conclusion of a National Water Conference organized by Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum on January 9, 2013 at Hotel Indus, Hyderabad, Sindh, Pakistan.
Participants to the conference dubbed "Restoration of Rivers and Question of More Dams and Diversions on Indus" expressed grave concern that the Indus Delta, the sixth largest river in the world, is on the verge of death for several years now. Dams and water diversions have made water unavailable for communities downstream as well as caused sea water intrusion that has inundated 2.7 million acres of fertile land in the Badin and Thatta districts of Sindh.
A declaration signed by of the participants of the conference highlighted the fact that around 50,000 large dams block most big river systems. Dams now hold back 15% of the world's annual freshwater runoff.
It was also noted that around forty to eighty million people have been displaced by dams and that approximately two million people are relocated every year.
The declaration stressed the need for a new integrated water paradigm that brings together the various aspects of ground water, surface water and land management as well as considers communities and the environment as essential users of water.
The participants also agreed to demand that the right "of" and "to" water should be respected within the framework of food sovereignty. They defined right "of" water as respect for the entire water cycle.
They further regarded privatization and commodification of water and other common goods such as land, seeds, and knowledge as crimes against the planet and humanity. They stated that large-scale dams and hydro-electric projects grab and sequester water without taking into account the needs, traditional practices and opinions of local communities, and totally disregards the protection of ecosystems.
Prior to the drafting of the declaration, several speakers discussed various perspectives and issues concerning water and dams to further advance the knowledge of the participants and enable them to build consensus on water concerns.
Gulab Shah, District President of PFF Thatta, shared the community perspective on social, economic and ecological disasters in Indus Delta and the causes of such. Meanwhile, Ishaq Mangrio, a well-known journalist, provided the perspective of indigenous peoples on the degradation of Indus Delta.
Mustafa Baloch, Regional Manger SPO, shared his experiences on working in the coastal belt of Sindh and Balochistan. He emphasized that the degradation of Indus Delta is not only the concern of communities but also of people living in the cities. The inaccessibility of sweet water downstream reduces mangrove production that protect the land from cyclones and tsunamis. He said these looming disasters are a big threat to people living in villages and cities near the coastal belt.
Abrar Qazi (Awami Jamhori Party) spoke about the mega infrastructure for irrigation and power generation in the Indus and its impacts on the Indus River. On the other hand, Nazeer Eesani GM SIDA underscored that water is not an economic good but a right of everyone.
In the afternoon of the conference, the other speakers talked about the political aspects of the issue. Qadir Magsi (Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party) emphasized the need for land reform and laser leveling in Sindh. Representing PMLN, Ayoub shared that his organization is not in favor of the Kalabhagh dam.
Dr. Dhudo Mehri (Sindh United Party) delivered an emotional speech as he called for the rejection of dams after sharing the historical background of the Indus and pointing out that the degradation started way back in 1919.
Secretary General of Pakistan Peoples Party Sindh Mr. Taj Haider spoke on behalf of government and shared his party's perspective on water crises as well as discussed issues of water logging.
After the discussions of the speakers, a declaration concerning water issues was approved by the participants of the conference.
A large number of peasants, hailing from remote villages of Jamshoro district, joined the rally to observe Global Week of Action for Climate Justice, started from November 12 to 17, 2012 on Wednesday. The rally organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) under the slogan 'Agrarian and Land Reforms now', attracted a large number of farmers from right bank of the River Indus and civil society activists to raise the voice to protect natural resources, believing the earth's climate is destabilising and the planet is in crisis.
Pakistan Fisherfolk forum (PFF) on Saturday organised a gathering to express solidarity on Malala Day being observed by various human rights and civil society organisations around the world. Saeed Baloch, General Secretary PFF briefed the audience about the situation of girls' education in Swat and the struggle of Malala Yousufzai for the great cause.
The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), a grass-roots non-governmental organisation (NGO), has launched a year-long campaign titled "Freedom of Rivers", Chairperson PFF Mohammad Ali Shah told The News on Saturday.
A comprehensive study prepared by the PFF for pragmatic utilisation of the most precious commodity, i.e. freshwater, says Pakistan's water situation is extremely precarious. Water availability has plummeted from about 5,000 cubic meters (m3) per capita in the early 1950s to less than 1,500 m3 per capita today.
According to the 2008 data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Pakistan is expected to become water-scarce (the designation of a country with annual water availability below 1,000 m3 per capita) by 2035, though some experts project this may happen as soon as 2020, if not earlier.
Soaked, Salty, Dirty and Dry
Today, at least 90 percent of Pakistan's dwindling water resources are allocated to irrigation and other agricultural needs. This is not entirely surprising, given that Pakistan is an overwhelmingly arid country with an agriculture-dependent economy. Unfortunately, intensive irrigation regimes and poor drainage practices have caused water logging and soil salinity throughout Pakistan's countryside. As a result, vast expanses of the nation's rich agricultural lands are too wet or salty to yield any meaningful harvests.
With the lion's share of Pakistan's limited water supplies dedicated to agriculture, less than 10 percent is left for drinking water and sanitation. Predictably, many Pakistanis lack these services. Though estimates vary, it is safe to say that anywhere from around 40 to 55 million Pakistanis—about a quarter to a third of the country's total population—does not have access to safe drinking water. In much of urban Pakistan, water is contaminated and waterborne disease is rife. Everyday, 630 children lose their lives because of diarrhea. Nonetheless, some of the water crisis' starkest manifestations can be found in the parched regions of the Sindh province, in southern Pakistan. As the country's population has surged, large volumes of water from the Indus River have been diverted upstream to the Punjab province to satisfy the soaring demand for agriculture and for consumption in cities. Consequently, downstream in Sindh, the once-mighty Indus has shrunk to a canal, and in some areas shriveled up to little more than a puddle. The river's disappearance throughout much of Sindh has snuffed out livelihoods throughout the river delta, particularly those of fishermen—who are now forced to gather firewood for a living and to buy their water (at high cost) from trucks. One Pakistani environmentalist has lamented how the Indus Delta is suffering through "severe degradation," sparking "coastal poverty, hopelessness, and despair," resulting in great damage to the delta's mangroves, and destroying entire ecosystems.
We still face serious challenges. The hydropower industry is planning to release a new protocol that could green wash hydropower and undermine the rights of dam-affected communities and downstream peoples to participate in development decisions. Southern financiers, like Brazil, China, and IFIs are increasingly funding dams that threaten some of the world's most amazing rivers, which have supported communities for generations. Government of Pakistan's has also planned to build more dams on Indus River without addressing the consequences of earlier dams on Indus Delta and its communities.
The way forward
The PFF believes that the Earth's freshwater belongs to the Earth and all species, and therefore not be treated as a private commodity to be bought, sold and traded for profit. The global freshwater is a shared legacy, a public trust, and fundamental human rights and therefore a collective responsibility.
In the context of water insecurity we have to be armed with a wide range of potential environmental and human solutions to the global, regional and national freshwater crisis. Is now time to advance a national, regional, and international water-security and keep the River Free movement agenda to protect water and to defend it from commercial exploitation.
The following will be followed to protect and conserve our scarce water resources and distribute them in a fair and ecologically responsible way: fight for 'Keep Rivers Free'; promote 'Water Lifeline Constitutions'; establish local 'Water Governance Councils'; fight for "National Water Protection Acts'; support and strengthen the anti-dam movement; oppose the commercial trade in water; confront the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank; challenge the lords of water; address national, regional and global equity; promote the 'Water Commons Treaty Initiative'; and support a 'Global Water Convention'.
Keep River Free Campaign
On March 14 on occasion of International Rivers Day the PPF had declared a one-year movement with the theme of "Restoration and freedom of Rivers". Under the "Keep Rivers Free" slogan the campaign started on April 15 and will continue till March 14, 2013.
The slogan of Keep Rivers Free means that the PFF wants ensures free-flow of rivers, and their freedom from dams, freedom form pollution, from privatisation, from cuts, and freedom from green washing.
• To build and strengthen networks within local, national, regional and international movements working for protection and restoration of rivers system in order to keep rivers free, and to protect and promote rights of communities that depend on healthy watersheds;
• To build up wide range of protests against the destructive dam projects;
• To promote alternative ways of meeting people's needs for water and energy through research advocacy and lobbying;
• To raise and strengthen our voices for no more dams, no more diversions and no more cuts on Indus River;
• To raise voice for release of sufficient water for all the deltas;
• To strongly demand release of at least 35 MAF downstream to Kotri for protection of endangered Indus Delta;
• To raise our voices for adoption of new water paradigm and restoration and keep free of Indus River;
• To strongly demand for reparations for people affected by existing dams;
• To mobilise the people of Pakistan to raise their voices to chant slogan that "lets reclaim our rivers, and let's reclaim our rights;
• To mobilise, organise the South Asian dams- affected and civil societies and networking with them.
• To run campaign on mass-mobilisation that safe drinking water is a fundamental human right.
Published in The News.
Abdul Rasheed Gaho is a Pakistani fisherman from the Gharo district in Sindh. Several years ago, he was out at sea when he got caught in a storm and was washed ashore on the Indian side of the border. He was arrested by Indian border officials, and after languishing in an Indian jail for several years as a prisoner of war, he finally managed to return home — only to find his wife busy preparing for her second marriage. His friends and family, because of his prolonged absence, had written him off as being dead.