Khursheed Ahmed Shah is an honourable member of parliament and a staunch defender of provincial rights and privileges. Shah represents the Sukkur division in Sindh, east of the Indus.
Eastern Sindh is a backward area. From Kashmore to Mithi, eastern Sindh has almost 60 percent of the land mass of Sindh and 40 percent of the population of rural Sindh. But it has a much larger share of poverty, unemployment, stunted children and malnutrition. Its backwardness is rooted in the fact that it is the most water-starved area of Sindh.
It has around 16 members of parliament, and they have never spoken about the deprivation of their area. Due to eastern Sindh’s deprivation, the urban-rural economic divide in Sindh is growing and rural poverty is rapidly expanding.
There is no doubt that eastern Sindh is rapidly falling behind. Lack of water resources is spreading rural poverty, landless haris lack the means of survival, and youth unemployment and despondency are increasing with no hope in sight. Along with this, rural GDP is stagnating and industrial development is lagging, while investment continues to shrink. Millions of acres of state land could have been developed and allocated to the haris but the ruling classes of Sindh want to appropriate water resources and state land for themselves.
In short, eastern Sindh has been experiencing the worst declines in average per capita income. Over 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. This combination of low per capita incomes, low calorie intake, as well as unemployment, inadequate access to education, sanitation, health facilities, an unhygienic environment, and insecure access to productive land and water resources represents an explosive mixture.
Recognising the situation, Gen PervezMusharaff had initiated the Rainee and Thar canal projects in eastern Sindh. The idea was to bring water from the Indus to the arid districts of Sindh and thus lay the foundations of sustained growth in this vital region. However, before these life-sustaining major irrigation projects could be completed Musharraf was removed from power in 2008.
The PPP government of Asif Ali Zardari came into power both at the federal and the provincial levels and Khursheed Ahmed Shah was sworn in as a federal minster. For inexplicable reasons the projects were left incomplete and the promise of development was snatched away from the people. Since then thousands of more children have died in eastern Sindh due to poverty and malnutrition and nobody has been held accountable for this deliberate lapse.
It is a known fact that water storage and irrigation projects in Pakistan are the biggest weapons against widespread poverty and hunger in the rural areas. Wherever irrigation water is delivered prosperity and modern amenities like power and transport follow. Employment expands and poverty declines. On-farm agricultural output and growth contribute to off-farm economic activity as well.
With efficient utilisation of water, agriculture output can be expanded manifold. My estimates are that for every million acre feet of irrigation water we can get a billion dollar of agricultural output a year. A billion dollar output in the agriculture sector ultimately contributes three to four times more to the overall GDP of the economy.
With the construction of the Kalabagh Dam, Sindh will get over four million acre feet of water every year for irrigation purposes. This water can bring 2.5 million acres of land in eastern Sindh under high value cultivation comprising, olives, mangoes, cheekus and other fruits and vegetables. This would add around $ 4 billion per year to the agriculture economy of Sindh.
When the off-farm impacts are taken into account, Sindh output will increase by about 10 to 12 billion dollars. Poverty in rural Sindh could be wiped out. There will be capital formation and employment generation where it is most needed. The lives of at least 10 million poverty stricken people of eastern Sindh would be transformed. This would be nation-building at its finest.
It was, therefore, very sad that my friend Khursheed Ahmed Shah – without giving much thought to the benefits that his constituents would get – castigated the Wapda chairman for highlighting the benefits of the Kalabagh Dam.
As our national leader, Khursheed Shah should have welcomed what the chairman of Wapda was saying and should have castigated those who cancelled the Thar canal project and those who have deprived the poor people of Sindh and Pakistan from intelligently harvesting the natural bounty of land and water that God has bestowed on Pakistan.
The writer is a former finance minister.