Why We Celebrate the International Day of Action for Rivers in Pakistan

Roshan Bhatti, Jamil Junejo, Muhammad Ali Shah

A 14-Day Long Campaign to Protect Our Rivers and Delta, 1st to 14th March

  • This is a guest blog by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Rally
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Rally
Photo Credit: Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum

March 14, 2015 is the 18th annual International Day of Action for Rivers. Every year, thousands people around the world lift their voices to celebrate the world’s rivers. For many years now, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum has used this global day to call attention to the issues facing the rivers of our country.

The entire globe is experiencing a water crisis. Asia, in general, and South Asia, in particular, is not exceptional to this phenomenon. This region is marred with complex and multidimensional aspects of water crises. Not only has the availability of water declined, but also the health of rivers and water bodies have been badly affected. 

 A deep probe into the issue reveals that weak and bad governance, coupled with anti-human and anti-environment policies, have created the water crises. Both incentives and lack of penalties have led to major ecological disasters. These include deforestation, destruction of wetlands, dumping of industrial waste into waterways, construction of dams, overexploitation of 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 people and water of South Asian river systems, including the Indus River.

South Asian development policies support privatization and favor the corporate sector, rather than offering any incentive or benefits for the public. Among the regions around the world, South Asia is second in the construction of large dams. Colonial control over natural resources and its ecological consequences remain hazardous to lives and livelihood. An example is the Pakistani national government’s and neighboring countries’ plans for dams and diversions on the Indus River.

Among the multiple water issues is a drastic decrease of water downstream of the Kotri Barrage on the Indus River in the Sindh province of southern Pakistan, a project that was completed in 1955. Before the construction of dams and the development of irrigation systems along the Indus, the annual flow of over 180 million acre feet (MAF), carrying a silt load of about 440 million tons, passed through the Indus to the Arabian Sea, culminating in 17 branches and forming the seventh-largest delta of the world. Cuts and diversions of water from the Indus have reduced the water flow to less than 10 MAF annually downstream of Kotri. Such a drastic decrease in the flow of water has incurred heinous losses on human and marine life in the Indus delta. The reduction of adequate water flow downstream of Kotri entirely changed the social, economic, and environmental landscape of the delta, which created a severe multidimensional crisis. The delta was once a most prosperous region; agricultural production of Sindh’s delta region used to account for 25% of Pakistan’s economy.

A decrease in river water in the delta has resulted in sea intrusion, causing the displacement of scores of people, losses of livestock and crops, depletions in mangrove swamps, and a decrease in fish catch, especially Palla fish. The mangrove forests, which guard against gusty winds and serve as breeding grounds for fish and meeting grounds for migratory birds, have been reduced to from 600,000 hectares (ha) to only 86,000 ha. More than a half dozen fish species have gone extinct. Meanwhile, sea intrusion has engulfed 8,100 ha of cultivable land.

Above all, 14 out of 17 creeks have been ruined. The remaining three creeks – Hajamaro, Khobar and Chhan – have a few inhabited islands and are at risk of decay because of a constant decline in freshwater flow. Sea intrusion has been rapidly encroaching on the islands of these three creeks. The remnants of the Indus Delta are unfortunately at the verge of ruin, too.

This situation will worsen unless national and trans-boundary water governance is improved. As International Rivers has indicated in a report, South Asian basins hydrologically 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 510MW 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. Similarly, India has many such plans.

Ceremony where the Indus River Meets the Arabian Sea
Ceremony where the Indus River Meets the Arabian Sea
Photo Credit: Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum

Taking the above facts into consideration, Pakistan Fisherfolk forum is celebrating International Day of Action For Rivers with a 14-day-long campaign that started on March 1 and will culminate on the International Day of Action For Rivers on March 14, 2015.


  1. To raise awareness among the communities about their water rights
  2. To strongly demand the release of at least 35 MAF of water downstream of the Kotri barrage for regeneration of the Indus Delta
  3. To discuss and explore the factors damaging health of water bodies and rivers
  4. To raise a strong voice for improved water governance and flows of rivers
  5. To educate people on the need for no more dams, no more diversions and no more cuts on the Indus River

Various activities will be held ranging from Corner Meetings, Dialogues, Rallies, Seminars, Theaters and Conferences. You can find a full list of our events on the global events map on the International Rivers Day of Action for Rivers webpage.

To conclude, the increasing water crisis will have a more severe impact than ever before on the underprivileged strata of the society globally, since mega-projects only benefit the ones who invest; thereby depriving the marginalized indigenous communities of their bread and butter. Therefore, the current need is to educate and mobilize the local communities about their rights to their marine and inland fishing resources, and the rehabilitation and restoration of these resources.

International Day of Action for Rivers on March 14 is a unique platform from where we can fight for both human rights and environmental justice. The day is an opportunity for us to show the world that the time is now to realize our responsibilities of restoration and protection of our water resources.

More information: 
  • Founded in 1998, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) is a unique civil society organization which works for advancement of social, economic, cultural and political rights of fishing and peasant communities in Pakistan. PFF enjoys mass support and has membership of more than 70,000 members in Pakistan including Sindh, Punjab and Baluchistan. During its struggle of more than 16 years, PFF has achieved a number of accomplishments which have propelled its status to few of the dynamic mass movements of Pakistan. PFF being one of the biggest social movements of the country representing marginalized fisher folk and peasant communities has striven through a true political and democratic process. Its struggle mainly targets a wide array of issues which are directly or indirectly associated with about 4 million fishers in Pakistan.
Thursday, March 5, 2015