Fisherfolk rights and water management in Pakistan

Linked with Feroz Mehdi – Canada & Pakistan;

By Feroz MEHDI, 7 February 2006 – Read all on this page of Alternatives.

The vast majority of Pakistan’s 135 million inhabitants do not have access to drinkable water. Although drought and pollution play a significant role in the lack of safe drinking water and in the country’s overall water crisis, some critics maintain that a large part of the problem is a result of poor management and deficient policy. One of the major victims of this lopsided development is the Indus Delta and its inhabitants.

Today, the Delta is on the brink of ecological disaster. Its ecosystem has been rich in nutrients that provide a nursery and an early feeding ground for many varieties of shrimp and fish, making it an ideal habitat for fishery and other valuable resources. The drying up of the river Indus downstream has permanently damaged the fragile ecosystem, resulting in a significant decrease in fish and shrimp production and loss of mangrove forests. Between the late 70s and mid 90s, some estimates place mangrove destruction at nearly half of all mangroves. Food, livelihood and water security were breached, leading to an increase in the incidence of poverty in the area.

The degradation of the Indus Delta has a multidimensional effect on people, land and the region’s overall environment. Reduction of Indus fresh water flows, and fertile silt, has significantly affected both Karachi and other parts of the Indus Delta. Drinking water aquifers are increasing in salinity. Sea intrusion has inundated more than 1.2 million acres of firm land of Thatta and Badin districts. Mangrove forests are steadily depleted, leaving the region vulnerable to greater damage from storm flooding.

Because of the water shortage, depressed quality of surface water bodies, loss of groundwater stemming from salt-water intrusion and water table depression, the drinking water supplies have dwindled and degraded in quality in many areas of Sindh. Shortage of safe drinking water has introduced many public health problems. Diseases related to drinking polluted water have increased, registering an increase of 200% in the last two decades.

As in the rest of the country, almost all rural areas remain excluded from a public water supply system. The rural population depends upon either pumped ground water or, in the case of remote drought struck areas and hilly terrain, upon highly contaminated surface water. Traditionally, the people and the animals share the same source of water: open ponds and small drains.

There is a lack of information and awareness of the significance of the Delta region. This is the case even at top government levels, as the president and ministers have continually said water going downstream through the Kotri Barrage was going to waste as it was going into the sea, without realizing the importance of the deltaic region.

It is in this context that we propose to undertake this project on good governance where the participatory and interactive nature of activities between the key stakeholders including the local and provincial governments, policy makers and the affected communities, provides a platform which will strengthen the rights and responsibilities of the fishing community in the Indus Delta.

Pakistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with huge development priorities and needs. Added to this is the challenge to counter terrorism and religious fundamentalism. The country has embarked on an economic development program and at the same time has accelerated peace dialogue with its important neighbour, India. This has been done with a clear view of increasing trade, and economic activities, and which will help to defuse the sectarian destructive forces.

Within Pakistan, this project provides a particular focus on the Indus Delta region which faces threats of massive disaster due to environmental degradation, constantly affecting the fishing communities. The Indus Delta Eco-region is among the five regions marked by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) under its Global 200 Eco-Region program. According to the World Bank, the communities of Thatha and Badin districts are amongst Pakistan’s poorest. The water situation and flooding in both districts serve as models for assessing the overall regional situation. These communities face serious consequences from the environmental degradation of the region, and have very little access to drinking water. Successive fresh water shortages, insufficient precipitation and the incursion of seawater have transformed the fertile agriculture lands into barren and saline ground. Sea erosion has forced the migration of large numbers of people.

CIDA has been engaged with Pakistan for over four decades. In accordance with the government of Pakistan’s identification of needs for its development priorities and work, CIDA has identified democratic local governance as one of its priorities. Alternatives has been working with several civil society organizations in Pakistan, at times with assistance from CIDA, for over a decade.

Through this project we will be involving all stakeholders in a participatory dialogue. Needless to say, this project will be deemed successful only if it brings the right group of people together and supplies them with adequate information to address the region’s environmental challenges.

The study and debate over the water crisis in Pakistan has largely been through and between the various government agencies managing water, as well as their donors and consultants. Although efforts made by the World Bank and some international research institutions brought NGOs into the debate about this crisis, the involvement of these groups has been marginal, mainly due to a lack of capacity to direct discourse around this issue. Providing NGOs and civil society organizations with the right tools to attend to the region’s environmental needs is one of the project’s priorities. Community leaders must be included in any decisional process that affects the region.

Campaigns for increasing freshwater flows to the delta and for developing an equitable water policy will, to a large extent depend on alliances built between civil society organizations and local, provincial and national government representatives.

There are over 5 million fishers living in the Delta. Severely affected by the environmental problems facing the region, these communities have a weak lobbying power, thus are an important stakeholder. Also, given their traditional roles and responsibilities, women are among the most affected by the regional water crisis and no effective dialogue can take place without their involvement. (Read all of this article on this page of Alternatives. )

Comments are closed.