Dead-quiet, flows the Indus
By Sarang Mangi
“Dams beside their economic significance have severe social and environmental impacts. Poor, powerless and marginalised ethnic minorities whose livelihood depends on the continuous flow of Indus will suffer the most.”
It is often said that the man who pulls the lever that breaks your neck should be a dispassionate man. As dispassion is the very essence of justice. For justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice but the honourable chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar is a man of passion. He is passionate about saving Pakistan. A few months back he stated that anyone who is against dams, is against Pakistan and anyone who is in the favour of Pakistan, will work towards building dams.
His passion for building dams to save Pakistan resulted in a pervasive judicial-cum-political campaign to collect money for dams. It spread everywhere, at some schools, teachers attached letters in children’s homework diaries, encouraging parents to donate for the dam. Banks, cellular networks, media outlets, and educational institutes jumped right into the bandwagon, all patriotically flaunting advertisements, encouraging Pakistani citizens to fund the dam. Even public service messages encouraging breastfeeding are ending with the ‘Fund the dam”.
And why not? The highest judge of our country has found a talismanic solution and is afraid to wait too long lest it magically disappears. He has left no page unturned to ensure Pakistan’s survival. Rest assured, our country’s judges are well acquainted with Mario Puzo, as well as the Sicilian way of delivering justice. The chief has already made an offer he thinks no one can refuse. He has cautioned that “everyone opposing this effort is a traitor and an enemy of the state.” and will be severely punished under article 6. And as we all know freedom of expression can be sacrificed when it comes to the matters of national security and survival. Our chief has warned, that the dam is essential for Pakistan’s survival and security and hence “Those who resort to criticism do it on other matters, but not on the issue of dams’ donation.”
Mind you, the honourable Chief Justice’s plan is sustainable as well. He has declared that after his retirement, he will put up a tent in front of the dam and will guard it day and night. He has also consulted experts to apply their brilliant minds in this regard. He has said that the experts had told him that the only way out was to build more dams “otherwise, the nation will have to fight for its existence”. One of his close experts includes 92-year-old engineer Imtiaz Ali Qazalbash, whose hobbies ironically include trout fishing.
As we all know freedom of expression can be sacrificed when it comes to the matters of national security and survival. Our chief has warned, that the dam is essential for Pakistan’s survival and security and hence “Those who resort to criticism do it on other matters, but not on the issue of dams’ donation”
From an energy perspective, the dams will undoubtedly bring economic incentives but an environmental analysis will tell a different story. Dams beside their economic significance have severe social and environmental impacts. The negative environmental impacts arising from dams will not affect everyone in the same way. Poor, powerless and communities belonging to marginalised ethnic minorities whose livelihood depends on the continuous flow of Indus will suffer the most.
Environmental experts quote ‘dams’ among the top anthropogenic activities threatening the biodiversity of rivers and their delta wetlands. Unfortunately, the herpetofauna of Indus is not protected by the law in the country.
The existence of 3 million hectares of Indus Delta and a plethora of a complicated biodiversity depends on the continuous flow of the Indus River. Their existence is threatened by dams, what is being called “wastage” of water in the sea is in fact lifeline for the entire ecosystem of Indus Delta along with the native people who have depended on this resource for centuries.
The Indus delta system has already reached a threshold. More than 2 million acres of fertile land along the Indus delta has already drowned into the sea. Any further water cuts into the sea will result in irreparable loss to the once rich ecosystem of Indus.
Systems thinking theory suggest that in order to wholly understand a problem, one needs to take every perspective into account. The problem itself changes with the change in perspective. If we cared about the Indus Blind dolphin “AndhiBulhan”, the only freshwater dolphin in the world, the symbol of Indus, the national mammal of Pakistan which once roamed freely along the 3500 kilometers span of Indus river. We would not want it to be confined to less than 1000 km of lower Indus, slowly waiting for the death of itself and its home.
If our livelihood depended on fishing tiger shrimp, Palla fish, and Dangri — supported by mangroves, we would want the river to flow freely. If we cared about the mangroves of Indus, the largest desert climate mangrove system in the world, we would want Indus river to flow continuously as it brings minerals, sediments, and slit essential for the survival of mangroves.
If we cared about the native people and the fishermen communities living in Ghorabari, KetiBunder, Shah Bunder, and Kharo Chan, where sea intrusion is taking place due to a reduction in freshwater flow, leading to the inevitable mass-scale migration of the native people, we would oppose construction of big dams.
If we were a nation responsible about fulfilling obligations attached with international covenants and agreements, we would honor the Ramsar Wetland Convention we signed in 1971, by ensuring protection of our wetlands which are habitat to hundreds of species including many threatened migratory birds.
If we were well versed in latest scientific literature on water conservation, we would know that dams, undoubtedly, make nice political statements as they are large and visible, but require a lot of investment and are not the wisest answer to water conservation. In the presence of much lower cost, efficient methods of water conservation, investment in new dams seems out of place. Using dams to secure water supply for irrigation is similar to using a bazooka to kill an ant. Yes, it will definitely kill the ant, but it is a fairly inefficient way of doing it, and will destroy many other things in the process.
But we are a nation on a mission to protect Pakistan and would not allow the freshwater of Indus River to flow freely all the way to the Arabian Sea only to be wasted as an unused resource. And in order to ensure it,we want to conserve it in a colossal concrete box hundreds of miles away from the native people of the delta and coastal areas who are surrounded by water all year yet have no water to drink.
The writer works as a management and evaluatiton consultant, he has an MPA from Cornell
Published in Daily Times, October 9th 2018.
(Courtesy, Daily Times)