Saturday July 13, 2024

Sindh govt urged to form broad-based water commission

By Our Correspondent
June 24, 2024
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah presides over a meeting to observe the World Environment Day at the CM House on June 5, 2024. — Facebook/Sindh Chief Minister House
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah presides over a meeting to observe the World Environment Day at the CM House on June 5, 2024. — Facebook/Sindh Chief Minister House

Speakers at a conference on the Thar coal project have demanded that the Sindh government establish a broad-based water commission for mitigating the risks regarding the coal power projects for the people of Tharparkar.

The Thar Climate Justice Tribunal held a conference titled ‘Coal Power Projects and Degeneration of Water Resources in Thar’ on Saturday at the Islamkot Press Club in District Tharparkar.

The conference deliberated on the role of open-pit coal mining operations and coal-fired thermal power generation in damaging the local hydrology of Thar, and rupturing the intimate relationship between the people of Thar and their homeland in what has been described as an arid zone.

The conference also discussed the limitations of existing mechanisms for monitoring the water-related devastations of Thar coal, and the failures of the mitigation strategies adopted by the companies and the Sindh government.

The specific nature, intensity and scale of water problems caused by coal power companies for the local communities living in the proximity of coal mines, thermal power plants and wastewater disposal sites also came under discussion.

The speakers showed their grave social and environmental concerns over what they called the coal-induced water crisis in Thar, severely afflicting the lives and livelihoods of local communities.

Continuation or any expansion of coal power projects, they said, would intensify the escalating crisis, complicate the water woes of local communities and make Thar an unliveable place.

They demanded that the provincial government establish a broad-based water commission, institute a participatory environmental monitoring mechanism and adopt the inclusive processes for mitigating the risks that coal power projects have been posing to groundwater resource in Thar.

Dr Ismail Kumbhar of the University of Agriculture Tando Jam said that dewatering for open-pit mining is causing twin problems of depleting water table and excessive quantities of wastewater generation.

He said that this in turn are inducing lowering level and contamination of dug-wells’ water in Thar. Over-extraction of groundwater and mismanagement of wastewater disposal by coal companies are causing severe hydro-environmental issues, he added.

He underlined the importance of building robust scientific evidence on the devastating impacts of coal power projects on the everyday lives of local communities, public health, biodiversity and hydrology of Thar so as to build a strong case for mitigating the escalating water crisis in the area.

Advocate Vasand Thari criticised the provincial government and mining companies for failing to meet the required standards and protocols for groundwater extraction and wastewater management. He said that over-extraction of groundwater is damaging the region’s lithology, affecting the groundwater recharge system, and causing water shortage for local communities.

Dr Abdul Sattar Lanjo, senior medical officer at the Islamkot Taluka Hospital, said that increasing salt and heavy metal concentrations in groundwater caused by coal power projects are worsening public health conditions in Thar.

He lamented that with the advent of coal mining operations and thermal power plants, the incidence of water-borne diseases has increased manifold in the Thar region.

Social and environmental activist Mehwish Leghari criticised coal power companies for showing an apathy to the problems that the local communities are facing due to the coal-induced degradation of water resource in Thar.

She urged the civil society to amplify the voices of the affected communities and exert pressure on the relevant authorities to fulfil their responsibilities for mitigating the escalating water crisis in Thar.

Representatives of the affected communities, including Aziz Halepoto, Lachhman Meghwar, Rasool Bux Meranpoto, Ashraf Samoon, Kuku Mehranpoto, Abdul Hadi Samoon and Dost Muhammad Halepoto, said that dewatering for coal mining has led to drying up of wells.

They said that it has also led to too much wastewater generation to poisoning of water in the dug-wells in their villages.

While concluding the conference, journalist Irshad Laghari read the conference declaration and submitted it with Chandan Malhi, a representative of the National Commission on Human Rights.