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Study warns of adverse health implications of coal power projects in Thar

By Our Correspondent
May 30, 2020

Air pollutant emissions from coal mines and power plants in Thar would cause alarming levels of toxic depositions in the region and expose local population to serious health risks, a study launched on Friday revealed.

Over an operating period of 30 years, the emissions from the coal mines and power plants in Thar would be responsible for 29,000 air pollution-related deaths, 40,000 asthma emergency room visits, 19,906 new cases of asthma in children, 32,000 preterm births, 20 million days of work absence (sick leave) and 57,000 years lived with disabilities related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and stroke, the study stated.

Titled ‘Air quality, health and toxics impacts of the proposed coal mining and power cluster in Thar, Pakistan’, the study was conducted by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). The launching of the report was held through an online video conferencing software, Zoom.

“Since Pakistan is already suffering from air pollution levels that are among the highest in the world, the emissions induced by coal mines and power plants of Thar will further reduce life expectancy in the country and increase the vulnerability of its citizens to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst of CREA, while speaking at the online launching ceremony of the study organised by the Alliance for Climate Justice and Clean Energy (ACJCE).

Thar emissions would constitute one of the largest hotspots of mercury and carbon dioxide in South Asia, he said. The coal power plants would emit an estimated 1,400 kilograms of mercury per year, of which one-fifth would be deposited into land ecosystems in the region, he added.

Most of the deposition would take place onto cropland and increase the mercury concentrations in crops, said the lead analyst, while terming the levels of mercury deposition as potentially dangerous in an area with 100,000 inhabitants.

The study also points out errors and omissions in the data used in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports of two coal power projects in Block-II and one in Block-VI as well as violations of the Sindh Ambient Air Quality Standards and guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Given the actual incidences of legal non-compliance and misreporting involved in social and environmental impact assessments, land surveys, land acquisition and compensation and the monitoring processes adopted for development of Thar coal mines and power plants, what the study reveals is just a proverbial iceberg of misleading public through data maneuvering,” said Advocate Zubair Ahmad Abro of the Alternative Law Collective, who has been fighting a legal battle for the communities adversely impacted by the coal power projects in Thar.

He resolved to continue the legal battle for the rights of people suffering because of the development of coal mines and power plants in the desert region.

Muhammad Ali Shah, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Form chairman, said the indigenous people of Thar would face harmful energy projects which would impact health and safety, livelihoods, homes, food production systems, water, environment, and ecology.

He said the harmful projects would lead to massive displacement, illnesses, loss of means of livelihoods, loss of lives, loss of biodiversity, destruction of natural resources, deepening of poverty, and destroying the ways of life of the people of Thar.

The local communities of Thar were already suffering from forced displacement, encroachment on common grazing land, livelihood losses, water issues and air pollution induced by the coal power projects in Thar, he said and demanded that the government adopt renewable energy projects and stop mining and import of coal for power generation.