Text and Photo by Amar Guriro
The Water & Power Development Authority (WAPDA) has continued development work on the ongoing mega project, Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) Phase-III, without solving the technical objections raised by different stakeholders.
According to experts, the project will adversely affect the biggest water reserve for Karachi that provides potable water supply to the city and many areas of Thatta district.
In 2002, during the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) public hearing, experts of the Sindh Wildlife Department objected that the construction of the RBOD. They said it would destroy the general ecology of the province especially its wetlands and fresh water lakes. These lakes including the Hammal Lake in the Larkana district and Manchar Lake in the Dadu district are important wetlands.
They stated that during phase-III, the project would badly affect another freshwater lake, Haleji Lake, a protected game sanctuary and a Ramsar site.
During the visit of Haleji Lake, this scribe found heavy machinery, excavators and cranes digging the ground just 100 meters away from the embankments of the lake. The area is officially declared as a buffer zone and is also protected under the wildlife ordinance. The rules and regulations of the wildlife department reveal that a distance of around one kilometer from the embankments of the Haleji Lake, which spreads over an area of 6.59 square miles, is supposed to be a buffer zone.
Since the lake has been declared a Ramsar site, no construction can be done on the lake or in the buffer zone.
It is pertinent to mention here that after signing the Ramsar Convention, the Pakistani government became bound to protect the lake and also the buffer zones, however, these rules are not being followed and remain only documents.
Since 1995, the Sindh Irrigation Department stopped providing water to the lake, which has badly affected the lake and its buffer zones. “Since the supply of fresh water from River Indus has stopped, there is no water in the buffer zones; this has badly affected the ecology and also the fishermen of the area who earn their livelihood from the ponds in the buffer zones,” said Sindh Wildlife Conservator Hussain Bux Bhaagat.
During the visit of the area the local fishermen told this scribe that in the past, there used to be a thick forest in the buffer zone area of the lake. “The officials of the Sindh Forest Department have chopped down thousands of trees converting the area into barren land,” said Siddique Mallah.
RBOD is mega project costing around Rs 29.274 billion that will drain out the agricultural effluents into the Arabian Sea from the districts of Sindh located on the right side of the River Indus. The construction of phase-III of the RBOD is posing serious threats for the survival of the lake.
“The level of the RBOD is about 300 meters below the level of the lake; this means that along with agriculture effluents, lake water will also run into the RBOD,” said Bhaagat.
The Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) was constructed to drain the effluent from the districts on the left side of the river. WAPDA has yet to collect the loss to the human population, livestock, wildlife, wetlands and wildlife game sanctuaries that were badly affected by the LBOD in the past.
“We believe that in the future, when RBOD will start working, it will not only suck the lake water by the seepage but when it will have a massive supply of effluents, some of these effluents will in turn seep into the lake, resulting in another disaster. Thus, we asked WAPDA to redesign the project so it may not affect the lake,” stated Bhaagat.
WAPDA’s official record reveals that RBOD phase-III starts from Sehwan in the Dadu district; it runs a distance of around 273 kilometres and then reaches Gharo in the Thatta district.
“We criticise the construction of the RBOD within such a close proximity of Ramsar sites and it is very strange how WAPDA has given NOCs despite the fact that the construction of drains is prohibited within wildlife sanctuaries as per the Sindh Wildlife Act of 1972,” said National Assembly Sub-Committee on Environment Convener Marvi Memon. She added that WAPDA has also not acquired a NOC from the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency for the project, violating the environmental laws.
“We have compiled a detailed report on the violations of the environmental laws in the constructions of this project and have also given detailed recommendations on how WAPDA can reduce the environmental concerns,” stated Memon.
Monday, April 13, 2009