Mega projects: gainers and losers

Manchhar and Hamal lakes on last legs
By Manzoor Chandio
Written on July 23, 2007

MANY countries are currently assessing benefits of mega projects so that the advantages and disadvantages of such ventures are made clearly visible.
For Pakistan, such a review becomes all the more necessary because billions of dollars have been spent or misspent by successive governments for mega development projects, aimed at alleviating poverty but the outcome have been downright grim.
Barrages, dams and outfall drains have been constructed presumably to benefit people, but they are worse off with more and more people being forced into poverty.
Foreign money for mega projects has gone into making some new rich among big bureaucrats, consultants and contractors.
On the other hand, the entire communities in Sindh and Balochistan – a region blessed by nature with rivers, bountiful lakes, large tracks of fertile land, orchids, forests, animal and bird habitats, wetlands, coast and gas and oil reservoirs –face a dire situation.
These are hard time for peasants, fishermen, craftsmen and herdsmen of the two provinces. Their means of livelihood have been destroyed, degraded and over-exploited in the name of development.
With terminal drought, rising poverty and widespread unemployment, more and more people than ever before have been marginalised. Official economists may or may not have a good grasp of the dimensions of problems ranging from poverty in rural areas to breakdown of social values, but they have altogether ignored the destruction wrought by mega projects on natural livelihood on which people depended for a living for centuries.
“Dams, barrages and overexploitation of water resources have taken a toll on people and biodiversity as rivers have dried up, lakes poisoned and fertile lands saline,” says Dadu-based writer Aziz Ranjhani.
It is not the lack of assets but the destruction and over-exploitation of assets which has caused so much poverty.
According to some figures, out of two people one is extremely poor, who according to the World Bank, can't eat three times a day or even twice a day, drink clean water, wear new clothes, or participate in social get together.
In the words of the WHO, he is chronically under-nourished too. Thus every poverty-stricken person is striving hard to meet basic human needs like shelter, food, clothes, education and medical.
“Manchhar, the largest fresh-water levee in Asia, is dying a painful death. The dumping of effluents is threatening its ecosystem,” says historian and writer Professor Aziz Kingrani.
The destruction of natural assets has created problems like the breakdown of social values, vanishing culture and profound moral degradation.
How can the government reduce the number of mal-nourished people since two million acres land in Thatta and Badin districts have been swallowed by the sea? How can you raise per capita income of peasants whose assets have disappeared as a result of government policies-- and fishermen whose natural aquatic resource like the Manchhar lake and the Hamal lake have been made poisonous?
According to Prof Kingrani and Mr Ranjhani dams and outfall drains have permanently rendered two million acres of land barren and millions of people have been dispossessed. The coastal Sindh and Balochistan have been brought to the brink of ecological destruction.
Prof Kingrani and Mr Ranjhani said the dumping of excessive water into the Manchhar lake has brought the entire socio-cultural set up of Mohanas (the fisherman) on the verge of extinction. Prof Kingrani said the conversion of the sweet-water lake into the saline water has reduced the fish catch from 70 to 80 tonns daily to three maunds (80 to 120 kg) daily.
“It is a battle for the survival for the impoverished fishermen,” they said.
Writer of many dramas on social problems and articles on cultural heritage, Professor Kingrani told Dawn on telephone that: “The entire Manchhar area is sight of malnourished children, men and sick women trying to make a living on dwindling fish stocks”.
Almost 80 per cent of women and children suffered from one disease or the other. About 50,000 people had migrated from the Manchhar area to settle in other parts of the province.
Larkana-based social activist and chairman of the Earth Lovers Society, Mr Zulfikar Rajper, said the first right of people on their natural resources of livelihood must be recognised. A writer of three books in Sindhi, one on the degradation of Hamal Lake, Mr Rajper says if the Sindh’s rivers, delta and lakes were not rehabilitated, the communities depending on them for their livelihood would face starvation.
“Saline water being dumped into Hamal and Manchhar lakes has not only disturbed the economy but destroyed the cultural heritage,” says Prof Mukhtiar Samo of the Larkana Knowledge Centre.
“Thousands of people and large herds of wildlife depended on resources of the erstwhile life-sustaining and sweet-water Hamal lake and forest surrounding it, but these are being destroyed,” says Mr Rajper.
“The Hamal lake has expanded 150 kilometers long and 60 kilometers wide due to discharge of poisonous water inundating several villages and natural habitat of wildlife,” he added.
Mr Rajper said that about 30 years ago the Hamal lake used to be a large pond of sweet and potable water from where people of the area not only drank water but irrigated their agricultural lands also.
“There was forest-like thick tree plantation along the lake which served as a sanctuary for the wildlife,” he said. The migratory birds from Siberia would flock in thousands to find a cosy living here during winter.
“Before being turned into poisonous lake by the saline water and effluent of Balochistan brought by Heeraldin Drain into it, the Hamal Lake was a hub of economic activities.”
“People of the Kachho (lap of the mountain), as the area is called, converged at the banks of the lake during their leisure time and enjoyed themselves of the fresh air, watery environment and hectic activities of the fishermen in the water,” said Prof Samo.
The lake was teeming with the fish and fishermen always were seen sailing in the boats on its surface here and there for catching the fish. “But all these are the stories of bygone times. Now the lake has lost it’s all past splendour and glory due to the step-motherly treatment of the authorities,” says Samo.
He said that the main Nara valley (MNV) drain carries the water of Hamal Lake to the Manchhar as such impure water of Hamal affects the water of Manchhar Lake.

Keenjhar Lake embankments raising project:
A recipe for disaster

Research done by the Action Aid Pakistan in 2008
Report prepared by Manzoor Chandio

The Assuring Water Supply to Karachi project aimed at raising the Keenjhar Lake’s embankments is being carried out by the Sindh government at an estimated cost of Rs3.2 billion. The project is being funded by the World Bank and supervised by the National Engineering Services of Pakistan (Nespak).
The lake is spread over 50 square miles. Its storage capacity is 0.524 million acre feet (MAF) and usable capacity is 0.38 MAF.
It is feared that the embankments raising project, the third of its kind, will not only inundate several villages but also cause displacement of thousands of fishermen.
The project envisages the raising of embankments by three feet with a free board of a foot to increase overall storage capacity from 0.8 MAF to 0.9 MAF and the lake’s level from the existing 54 reservoir level (RL) to 57 RL.
Other components of the project are: Remodeling of Kalri Baghar (KB) Feeder to divert water to Karachi, construction of a spillway and metallic roads on the banks.
According to a survey conducted by the fisheries department in 1970 about 50,000 people lived in areas surrounding the lake. The 1989-90 census put the fishermen population at 24,355 with 2,200 boats. The population figures based on the 2005-06 census show now 10,320 fishermen are settled along the lake banks with some 820 boats.
The annual production of fish is being estimated at 15,650 tons which is in stark contrast to the 1989-90 survey. The fishermen’s misfortune began in 1958 when the need of additional fresh water supplies was felt for Karachi- the economic hub of the country.
The Keenjhar Lake was the nearest fresh water reservoir to Karachi that was capable of fulfilling its growing needs of water as the distance between them was about 125 kilometers.
Thus to fulfill the need of water of Karachi the 15-mile embankment was constructed to amalgamate the then two distinct lakes Keenjhar and Sonehri in order to raise the capacity of water storages in the lake.
It was for the first time that thousands of fishermen as well as non-fishermen communities were compelled to migrate from their ancestral places without having been given any compensation of their losses. There were thousands of acres of fertile land in areas surrounding the lake.
Before the water diversion about thirty species of fish were found in the lake. Now some of fish species in the lake have gone extinct. Many of the villagers had migrated to Punjab, Balochistan and Afghanistan due to decline in fish catch.
The KB Feeder supplies water to five talukas of Thatta between June and August, which is breeding season of fish and during the course the lake does not receive water inflows through the KB Feeder.
The lake’s inlets and outlets had no nets to stop fish seed from slipping out.
According to some rough estimates about 50,000 fishermen and 11,000 acres of agricultural land in Sonda and Jhampir union councils would be hit by salinity after the raising of the lake’s storage capacity.
Historically, the lake belongs to fishermen. It was granted to them by Jam Tamachi, a 14th century Sindh ruler.
The fishermen had close socio-economic and cultural associations with the lake, its environment, water, biodiversity and all the flora and fauna.
A number of development projects were initiated which were interlinked given to the fact that they were carried on with the single objective of supplying fresh water to Karachi.
They were as follows:
-Construction of Link Canal from the Indus River to the Keenjhar Lake.
-Construction of KDA Canal to supply water from the lake to Karachi.
-A number of extension phases to raise the capacity of lake for water storages. All the development projects brought unrepairable losses to local fishermen communities.
In the other words development was equal to destruction of local communities as it meant for them to become homeless and deprived of their natural livelihoods, means of living and social and cultural environment.
Khudai village, which is now under water, was once prominent trade center of Keenjhar Lake.
It was submerged when the water storage capacity of the lake was raised for the first time, but until now no compensation has been given to thousands of fishermen of the village compelled to migrate from the lake.
Issues and concerns:
1. No consultations have been held with local fishermen and non-fishermen communities before initiating the project regarding impacts of the project.
2. Thousands of fishermen living in 22 villages around the lake would be compelled to migrate from their ancestral villages as a result of water seepages from the lake as their villages will be severely affected by water logging and salinity.
3. The communities other than the fishermen who will directly affected by this project are Jakhra, Khashkehli, Bhambra, Baarich, Palari, Aatha, Dars, Brohi, Shora, Chowan, Hejib, Sarki, Sondai, Qazi, Sayyed, Soomra, Hindus, Dewan, Ismailis, and Helaya. Who are traders and little land owners.
4. Fifteen thousands acres of agricultural land of Sonda and Jhimpir union councils would be degraded by water logging and salinity, depriving thousands of farmers of their livelihood.
5. Additional water stored in the lake will be supplied to Danghi and Bhandar Island cities in addition to Karachi.
6. Due to substandard soil used in the raising of bunds will always be the risk of the breaking of bund that will result in a big tragedy. All major towns of the Thatta district will be at risk of drowning.
They are: Darro, Bathoro, Sujawal, Bannu and hundreds of other villages.
7. Tombs of Noori and Pir Hondal Shah are still present amidst the lake will drown in water and the tomb of Shah Hussain, Amir Pir and other historical graveyards and sites would also be affected that would also be a great loss to history and architecture of ancient Sindh.
A number of influential people have made their illegal occupations around the lake owing to their political and institutional pressures.
The influential people will restrict fishermen’s movements who are already suffering from a number of problems. Even the government departments are also responsible for adding to hardships of these unfortunate communities.
The illegal occupation of some army officials on an island of Keenjhar lake namely ‘Gadah Bhiri’ is an obvious example of the above-mentioned fact.

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