Sindh Peoples Caravan: Protect Our Rivers and Delta

Muhammad Ali Shah & Dr. Aly Ercelan

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum works for the advancement of the social, economic, cultural and political rights of fishing and peasant communities in Pakistan. With over 70,000 members and a 16-year history, PFF is one of the biggest social movements in the country.

Every year from March 1 to March 14, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum leads a two-week long, country-wide peoples caravan in honor of International Day of Action for Rivers. This year’s preparations are well underway. Read on to learn more about PFF’s current issues, hopes and demands in their work to protect rivers.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the March 14 Day of Action for Rivers.  Every year, tens of thousands of people across the globe lift their voices to celebrate the world’s rivers as the source of all life. We celebrate and demand improvement in the policies and practices of decision-makers and call for good water governance. It is a day to unite – by acting together, we demonstrate that these issues are not merely local, but global in scope. We have the power to protect these vital lifelines, but only if we join together to stand up and speak out with the power of collective action.

Across the world, the greed of capitalism has created water crises. Asia in general and South Asia in particular are marred by complex and multidimensional water crises. Water availability has declined and the health of water bodies has been badly affected. Weak and deliberate mal-governance, including poor incentives and a lack of penalties, have created major ecological disasters, including deforestation, destruction of wetlands, dumping of industrial waste into waterways, construction of dams, overexploitation of the major river systems, corporate control of water resources and unplanned urbanization due to increasing population pressure.

All these issues pose serious threats to life and the health of the South Asian people and our watersheds, including the Indus River system.

Our analysis reveals that anti-human and anti-environment policies have been applied in South Asia with the same rapacity that colonial powers used to impose control over citizens. Post-independence, growth policies became excuses for privatization, and these policies favor corporate monopolies rather than public welfare. South Asia has the highest regional concentration of large dam construction compared to any other region in the world. Pursuing neo-colonial control over natural resources creates ecological consequences that threaten life and livelihood.

The dams and diversions on the Indus River planned by our national government and neighboring countries would assault the ecology of the Indus Basin. We must recognize these projects as threats of the highest order, even when producing hydropower is seen as a matter of national importance.

Our situation will worsen without cooperative trans-boundary water governance that goes beyond the Indus Waters Treaty. South Asian river basins depend on China. The main river systems – the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra – are all connected to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. The headwaters of all these rivers, except the main Ganga River, rise within a few hundred kilometres of each other, in the southwestern region of the Tibetan plateau. China has various ongoing designs of dam construction and hydropower plants. In November 2010, China officially confirmed the construction of the 510 MW Zangmu hydropower project at Gyaca County in the Shannan Prefecture of TAR. Reportedly, five other dams are under consideration on the river and its tributaries.  India also has many such plans.

Transboundary governance must also take into account the deadly nature of coal plants. Banning all coal power plants on rivers and the coast in Pakistan will not yield any benefits if other South Asian countries continue with their plans for massive coal energy expansion. As China and other countries in the region expand carbon emissions from rising fossil fuel consumption, and methane emissions from additional storage dams, the resulting water and air pollution and global warming will affect us all.

Hence, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum has planned to celebrate the International Rivers Day with a 14-day campaign named as Sindh Peoples Caravan. This 14-day long campaign will start on March 1, 2017 and will culminate on March 14, 2017 in the form of a massive people’s assembly of thousands of fishing people and peasant communities, civil society members, academia, government officials, media and other stakeholders. The Sindh Peoples Caravan celebrating the International Rivers Day will be carried out under the theme “Protect Our Rivers and Delta.” Taking into consideration the aims and objectives of the International Rivers Day, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum has planned to highlight the restoration of rivers in general and the River Indus in particular; maintaining a freshwater flow of 35 MAF downstream from Kotri Dam; the protection of the Indus Delta; and the provision of freshwater to all inland natural freshwater lakes.  

Specific Objectives of this Campaign:

  • To raise awareness about water rights and responsibility among communities
  • To strongly demand that IRSA reserve at least 35 MAF water downstream of the Kotri Dam for the regeneration of the Indus Delta
  • To demand a scientific exploration into the causes of water and river degradation that diminish life and livelihoods of indigenous peoples
  • To be a strong voice for improved water governance and environmental flows in rivers 
  • To sensitize people to the issues of dams, diversions and cuts on the Indus River 
Wednesday, February 22, 2017