Lives and rights at risk: Water sector development

Dams are built to control floods and to store water for hydropower, agriculture, industrial and drinking purposes. But in the second half of the last century, many questions were raised on building of large dams because of their social and environmental impact. These large reservoirs have displaced at least 40-80 million people in different parts of world.

People world wide are committed to caring for their rivers and believe in finding the best ways to produce and distribute electricity. They think that access to water is a basic human right and must be a core principle guideline for any development.

The World Commission on Dams (WCD) has studied these divergent views and perspectives and recommended alternate options. And hence arises the need to define and explore these alternates.

According to WCD, five principles govern the entire process. As per the evidence presented in the Global Review, these are: equity, efficiency, participatory decision-making and sustainability and accountability.

THE WCD REPORT BOILS DOWN TO THIS: world wide, large dams have not provided benefits, which were promoted and were predicted by the proponents of large dams. Negative impacts of large dams have been far greater then imagined.

The outstanding social and environmental problems associated with existing dams need to be addressed; and that the rights of all people especially indigenous people, must be respected and risk must be fairly analysed and publicly discussed for thousands of people who are expected to lose their fisheries and other livelihoods and specially because they have never been consulted to assess potential risks they would be subjected to in the short and long-term.

LIVES AND RIGHTS AT RISK: In the context of Pakistan, the affected people are involuntary risk takers, who have been provided no opportunity to participate in decisions affecting their lives. Indus Delta and Chashma Right Bank Canal may be referred to as examples.

INDUS DELTA: Indus Delta is home to centuries old indigenous communities. These people have universally recognized rights over the Indus River. According to the law of the land, they posses constitutional right to be consulted before starting any water project on Indus River.

The National Resettlement Policy aims to ensure full consultation and participant with indigenous people. Fisher folk of the delta have historical and traditional rights on Indus River, but they are not even recognized as affectees of large dams.

Indigenous communities are totally ignored in the decision-making process regarding dam development. People have suffered due to big dams constructions as they have paid huge cost of ecological disaster.

The situation will become more alarming owing to further dams building on Indus River. The community will be exposed to further risks due to such project. Further decrease in the water flow to the Indus delta and increased displacement of communities from there is aggravating situation.

RIGHT BANK CANAL: In the specific case of Chashma Right Bank Canal, project proponents have ignored the communities and trespassed their rights without paying any compensation to them.

Rights of not only the present generation but of future generations in regard to land, water and pastures. flow; Moreover, the compensation process has been in total violation of the laws of the land.

In case of Chashma Right Bank Canal, while land acquisition for construction of the project began in 1995, the formal process of notification was initiated in December 2001. Construction of the project resulted in various forms of disruptions in the lives of local communities, including disintegration of support networks such as disabling of Rowed-kohi (traditional irrigation) system.

Hence in Pakistani context, experience of large reservoirs and dams have been largely against guidelines and proposed values of the WCD. Public sector projects in water sector have been designed and executed completely even without ceremonial participation of stakeholders. Thus these projects have benefited only privileged classes at the cost of marginalized, and voiceless and uprooted communities.

The worst-hit in such a disruption are women, although women play very significant role in managing natural resources. Being food providers, they interact with natural resources.

In Pakistani context, women are actively involved in water sector related activities such as agriculture, fishing and livestock such as, agriculture harvesting, net making shrimps peeling, nets cleaning, cattle grazing etc which is the major contribution towards their house incomes.

However women have never been part of any pre-project consultation and decision making in this regard.. Though the list of rights of communities’ at risk is endless, the most important of such rights them are given below:

* Downstream people have historically recognised rights on natural flows such as Indus River and Roewd-Kohi, which become increasingly at risk with every new reservoir constructed at upstream.

* People have constitutional right of consultation in regard to their water projects on Indus River as recognized in the National Resettlement Policy).

* Fisher folk have historical fishing right which is directly dependent on flow of Indus River.

* People possess property rights which no one can deprive them against their will. In large reservoir projects, this right is often risked and violated.

* People have historical rights on natural endowment in their areas such as lakes, ponds, and pastures. These natural resources are often inundated or left dry due to new reservoirs. Resettlement and money cannot compensate this loss.

* People have legislative right to participate in decision-making. But there is no provision to include potential affectees in decision-making process.

* Women have right to fully participate in entire process (e.g. according to National Resettlement Policy affected women should be ensured equal access to all income restoration programme by maximum involvement of women).

RISKS: The following are the risks, most frequently observed in large reservoir projects:

* Water projects are designed and executed without proper consultation and thus become non-participatory; new reservoirs decrease fresh water flow to downstream areas such as delta; more increased displacement from project sites and downstream areas; additional communities loose their natural means of livelihood; new developments unfold new conflicts among communities due to dwindling resources; indigenous community face specific cultural and social risk (inflow of new cultural groups from affectees or beneficiaries) due to large sale development projects; fragile eco-systems are exposed to variety of risks such as inundation and desertification; beneficiaries’ lobbies temper laws and rules in their favour to execute large projects thus leaving communities politically deprived from right of participation in decision making.

All viable options should be properly explored before opting for large reservoirs and dams. Energy and irrigation development should not be carried out at the cost of livelihood and natural endowment of communities.

Courtesy : The DAWN

Muhammad Ramzan Rafique
Muhammad Ramzan Rafique

I am from a small town Chichawatni, Sahiwal, Punjab , Pakistan, studied from University of Agriculture Faisalabad, on my mission to explore world I am in Denmark these days..

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