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INDUS DELTA

Back Ground

Indus Delta seventh largest in the world has been put to death by intended policy decisions, which demonstrates worst case of political economy of water resources development in Pakistan. Upstream diversions of Indus River by several structures through out the 20th century seized water from nature and life thus endangered the globally important wetland. Indus Delta was wealthy in its biodiversity and one of the vital ecosystems in Pakistan. Housing millions of indigenous communities as well as countless species of fisheries, wildlife and forestry. The deltaic communities by inherent wisdom judiciously utilized these resources and maintained sustainability of the system for centuries. Once these community common resources were expropriated from real owners and put in the domain of policy makers the degradation started. In the recent development history, Indus delta can be referred as worst example of human alternation in nature.

The grandeur of delta was directly correlated with fresh water flows of River Indus. The fresh water and millions of tones of silt deposition sustained the life supporting system covering a vast 700,000 hectare along the 350 Coastlines of southern Sindh province of Pakistan. This magnificent work of nature, provided sustenance source to the half million people directly and two million indirectly, scarified on myopic and short term development goals. The inbuilt inequality in development policy and planning in Pakistan worked effectively in the case of Indus Delta. The benefits were shifted from once self-reliance and rich communities of delta to the powerful elite and large landowners. This shift in resources mainly water brought imbalance in power structures too.

The short-term gains, against forgone long-term sustainability, encompassed in expansion of irrigated land, production and to some extent commodity export. The large portion of benefits tilted toward rich and ruling class of the country. The existing class of landowners becomes wealthiest and new class emerged on the cost of coastal communities. The policy instruments were not redistributing the incomes or not adding in aggregate production or income, it was just shifting the resources and benefits; the ultimate outcome was increase in poverty and misery along the coastline.

Though the crisis originated a century and half ago when British ruler built irrigation network in sub-continent to grow the crops which could be used as raw material for growing industries in Europe. Indeed these water interventions brought prosperity to area, but it evaporated in half-century intensive irrigation practices. The process of diverting river water from nature to human use, continued even after the independence of country from colonial rule. We neither thought and nor adopted any innovation which could allow river Indus to reach sea and protect the historical rights of deltaic communities, solely depending on uninterrupted water flow.

The conflict over water distribution looks unending in Pakistan as demand grows and supply shrinks due to several reasons, besides political economic considerations. Turning the water from nature and drying the tail of Indus without listening the cry of international and national conservation organizations, snatching water from nature without calculating the costs and benefits. Is that development path sustainable? In my view costs are high including loss of biodiversity, worsening human health, declining delta forest, loss of thousands tones of Pala fish and survival of peoples who depends on fishing, intrusion of sea water, environmental degradation of coastal land. The benefits included irrigating few thousand hectares. According to several scientific studies only 40% of diverted water reaches to cropland. So if we divert 30 MAF (amount of water suggested to preserve coastal ecology) of water to cultivate the cotton most productive crop, just 12 MAF reach to farm gate. Is it worth more than the cost mentioned above? It requires unbiased estimate of costs and benefits.

The less debated issue in case of Indus Delta is related to social justice. Does the water share of Indus delta, if diverted to irrigate the agriculture lands will generate sufficient employment opportunities to compensate the loss of employment in delta area? Do the benefits earned by agriculture productivity will equally be shared among landowners and sharecroppers? Current land distribution pattern of Pakistan does not allow efficient mechanism for distributing the benefit among wider population. The large tracts of lands belong to big farmers and they will be ultimate beneficiaries. The process of diverting water will aggravate the current situation of unemployment and inequity in resources distribution and consequently will increase poverty. Not going into in-depth analysis of backward and forward linkages of both diverting water for irrigation or leaving river to flow freely and revive the delta, the common sense depicts very crystal picture that in any high scenario of crop productivity the economy will not be able to create half million employment opportunities, being lost in delta area.

This policy paradigm for water resources development, which is still continuing, brought several negative environmental consequences too, but two implications are important to mention. One diverting fresh water from delta to agriculture fields intensified agriculture, which temporarily created rural employment opportunities and production increased but in very short period of time the benefits started disappearing due to the waterlogging and soil salinity, the problems created by intensified agriculture. The long-term sustainability of irrigated agriculture in Pakistan threatened and land productivity decreased at significant level. The costs of rehabilitation of lands and removal of waterlogging and salinity are immense and were never calculated during the period of diverting water. These costs and benefits are not equally distributed, the beneficiaries of these polices never internalized the costs.

The second implication of diverting water from delta to irrigated land, 150 MAF 70 year ago and less than 10 MAF now, is degradation of delta itself. The degradation of Indus delta started with reduced fresh water flow and augmented by disposing urban & industrial waste, disposal of saline agricultural effluent, un-sustainable exploitation of local resources. The degradation manifested in reduction of mangroves coverage (important fish habitat), declining fish stock, shrinking of agriculture land & vegetation, vertical and horizontal intrusion of sea, degraded ground water, shrinking riverine forest and significant reduction in livestock grazing areas. This transformation took place in 20th century and intensified in the last half brought tremendous pressure on environment and life-supporting system. The livelihood bases of communities eroded, poverty increased, health conditions deteriorated, migration started, despair and hopelessness prevailed.

The broader policy objectives of water resources development in Pakistan do not incorporate these considerations even after the picture of losses is very clear. The reason is imbalance of power structure in decision-making process. The group of few powerful people decides the entire agenda of development, which ensures their benefit. The ambitious plan of water resources development in Pakistan envisages in vision 2025 is a clear indication that whatever the water comes in rivers will be diverted and utilized upstream. These policy decisions, which are politically rooted, would have even future serious implications for the poor and voiceless deltaic communities.

Research Question

  • What is relationship between decreasing water flow towards Indus Delta and increasing poverty in coastline?

  • What are the linkages of political economy with transition of once rich people into impoverishment?

Research Locale

The research will be based in three talukas of district Thatta Sindh, Pakistan

Research Methods:

· Literature review for knowing the historical perspective of the Delta area

· Designing structured questionnaire

· Interview with the communities in identified three talukas of district thatta

· Analysis of Data using statistical computer software

· Data interpretation and comparison of current figure of poverty

· Comparison of current soci-economic situation with historical prosperity

Significance of Research

Researches will contribute into the contemporary debate of environment-poverty nexus and sustainable development. It can be widely used by policy makers, advocacy groups, community organization and student of environment.

BY: SHAH FAROOQ
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โˆ™ 2009-10-14 03:08:39
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