Large Dams and Huge Canals on River Indus Will Destroy Sindh

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On behalf of the people of Sindh, we appeal to you to use your good offices to ensure that no loan or grant is provided to the Pakistani government to build large dams and huge canals in Pakistan. Such projects will have immense adverse impact on the people, economy and environment of Sindh.

Due to their total control of the Pakistan military, the northern provinces are in the driving seat and make all of the decisions concerning joint resources of Pakistan. All of the decisions with respect to water have been made without any regard whatsoever to the interests of Sindh. Sindh has not even been adequately informed on most of these decisions let alone consulted and sought her approval. The organizations such as Water And Power Development Authority (WAPDA) have callously flouted internationally recognized rights of the lower riparian that have been upheld in the courts and international courts around the world. Due to the neglect, discrimination, and exploitation, rural Sindhis have become poorest of poor in the world. Even by Pakistani standards, more than 50 percent of the officially counted population of 29.99 million in Sindh, (a great majority of them living in rural Sindh) live below the poverty line.

The present water crisis that has engulfed Pakistan and Sindh is not so much a result of general water shortage due to climatic changes, as some would want us to believe. This crisis is a result of an unbridled greed and callous mismanagement of the water resources by the unrepresentative nature and hegemonic attitude of successive unrepresentative Pakistani governments. The desire and actions of Punjab to take more than its fair share from Indus River since the British had occupied both Sindh and Punjab in the middle of the nineteenth century. The British courts and government officials, on many occasions, prevented Punjab to divert water from the river at the expense of Sindh. In 1901, the Indian Irrigation Commission prohibited Punjab from taking any water from Indus without the approval of Sindh. In 1919, the then government of India issued the Cotton Committee report; where in, it ordered Punjab not to undertake any projects until Sukkur barrage was completed and water needs of Sindh were determined. In 1925, Lord Reading, the British Viceroy of India, rejected the Punjab's request for Thal canal from Indus considering the undue deprivation of Sindh's lower riparian rights.

In spite of strong opposition that have included resolutions in the parliaments of Sindh, Baluchistan, and North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the present military government is once again pushing for the Kala Bagh dam and other dreadful projects to divert Sindh's share of water. They have approached international financial institutions such as yours for financing of these projects. If such financing is approved, it will have a devastating impact on the province of Sindh as highlighted below:

DEFORESTATION AND LIVELIHOOD: Shortage of water deprives the "kacho" area from river inundation. About 100,000 people live here and derive direct sustenance from this area. In addition, about a million people benefit from this area in the timber trade, firewood supply, and as fishermen and boatmen. River forests along the Indus River are threatened due to reduced flow in the Indus, as the river water is the only source of regeneration and growth of these forests.

LAKES, WETLANDS AND MANGROVE FOREST DESTRUCTION: The water, nutrients and silt deposited by the Indus when it discharges into the sea, sustains the mangroves. These forests form an important component of the coastal ecosystem. The forests support many species and are a source of timber, fodder, and wild life. They are major breeding areas for shrimp and crab. If Indus continues to receive reduced flows, the lakes and wetlands could loose their inflow and slowly become polluted and smaller ones will even dry out and any life in them would die out as well.

SALT WATER INTRUSION: The Indus water discharge to the sea keeps the sea water at bay and does not let it intrude too much into the surface and ground water resources inland. Salt-water intrusion has been witnessed inland up to 100 kilometers north of the sea. The salt-water intrusion destroys water supplies and renders fertile agricultural lands useless, resulting in loss of jobs and economic devastation. Pakistan National Institute of Oceanography and National Science Foundation has established that salt-water intrusion into the plains of lower Sindh is directly related to the decrease of flow in River Indus.

RARE AND ENDANGERED SPECIES AT RISK: The Indus Blind Dolphin or Bullahan, a rare specie, was once present throughout the entire Indus river system and numbers were in hundreds of thousands. The numbers of the Indus Blind Dolphin have dwindled from 500 in 1993 to mere less than 200 in a short stretch of the Indus between Sukkur and Gudu barrages. Shad or Pallo fish, Barramundi fish, Dangri fish, and shrimps are threatened to become extinct due to lack of water outflow to the sea and destruction of the mangrove forests.

CULTURAL DEPRIVATION: Water has great importance in the lives and belief system of the Sindhi people. The religion, literature, and many cultural and social aspects of their lives are intertwined with water; especially the Indus. Depriving them of water is to deprive them from their core belief system and cultural values.

We appeal to you and other officials of your bank to impress upon the government of Pakistan to change its policy of building large dams and canals and instead create a comprehensive water plan for Pakistan based on the following principles:

1. Fair Indus River water policies should be developed and implemented based on the Sindh-Punjab agreement of 1945. These policies should ban construction of any structures, including the Kalabagh Dam, Thal Canal, and similar projects.

2. A study should be conducted as envisaged in the 1991 Water Accord to cover all environmental and ecological consequences downstream from Kotri Barrage due to reduced water releases. The study must establish the water needs downstream for human population, protection of mangroves, prevention of sea intrusion, sustenance of fisheries, and maintenance of groundwater quality.

3. A new agreement should be developed based on the 1945 Sindh - Punjab agreement and the 1962 Indus Basin Water Treaty between India and Pakistan. The new agreement must recognize the internationally accepted lower riparian rights.

We hope that we have made a convincing case for your intervention to save the environment and economic deprivation of Sindh. In these desperate times for Sindhis, we have no alternative but to approach you and people like you who can influence the Pakistan government diplomatically as well as by including safeguards for Sindhis in their loan and grant agreements.