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April 17, 2019

Protesters demand protection of Muzaffarabad environment, economy

National

April 17, 2019

LONDON: Residents of Muzaffarabad living in Britain have called on authorities in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir to fulfill promises made before the start of Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project (NJHP) and help save local environment and nearly half million local population.

During a demonstration here, protestors said that environmental issues caused by the diversion of Neelum River for commissioning NJHP were showing real life impact and the authorities should intervene urgently.

The London demonstration was organised under the banner of “Darya Bachao, Muzaffarabad Bachao (Save River, Save Muzaffarabad) Committee” which has organised action in Muzaffarabad as well. The protestors said that they welcomed when the NJHP was announced because it was in interests of local people and the region but while the project is essential for power generation it’s important that local communities are protected and preservation ensured. They said they considered that NJHP and the upcoming Kohala project could benefit the local immensely if they are taken into confidence and their demands and concerns accommodated.

The protestors claimed the project was initially proposed to be completed in a way to leave the minimal negative impacts on the environment and climate of Muzaffarabad but the promises surrounding the preservation of environment and livelihood of local people have not been fulfilled. They said that small businesses such as rariban, dhabay (small hotel business) have also been affected severely due to the river diversion resulting into unemployment of local people.

A memorandum submitted to the Pakistan High Commission appealed to Prime Ministers Imran Khan, Raja Farooq Haider and other concerned quarters to listen to look into their demands. “Our demands are no other than the completion of the project in a systematic and logical way; considering and adequately undertaking environment impact assessment,” it said and noted that the uniqueness of the rivers has been badly affected.

“It is no more possible to see the natural dynamics of rivers work and provide us with multiple ecosystem services: productive fishing grounds, fertile soils, biodiversity, clean drinking water, retention of floods, or experiences of nature”.

The protestors claimed that water shortage in the Neelum River, which flows through the city, is a major local issue. They claimed that approximately 90 per cent of the water in part of the river that flows into Muzaffarabad has dried up and it has forced many people to migrate and also it has affected businesses.

The memorandum addressed to the leadership called for measures to help build related industry by provision of financial assistance, training and equipment as well as measures aimed at promoting tourism industry in Neelum and Jhelum valleys. It called for job opportunities for the small businesses; and reasonable safety measure to protect Muzaffarabad.

Azad Kashmir’s Prime Minister Farooq Haider has said the 1000 MW Neelam Jhelum Hydropower Project has started functioning recently and urged the government of Pakistan to address the reservations of the people of Muzaffarabad regarding environmental issues due to it. A representative of Pakistan High Commission received memorandum from the protestors and assured to pass it to authorities in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir.

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