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`If the Indus lives, Sindh lives`

By Shazia Hasan 2019-03-16
KARACHI: A conference organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) on the occasion of International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams at the Arts Council of Pakistan here on Thursday was held to spread awareness about rivers, especially the Indus.

`There are very few of us who know about rivers these days. In Karachi, when we talk about water, people link it to the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board instead. They don`t even know the meaning of a free-flowing river. It may be because we have entrapped most of our rivers and built dams on them. Most rivers here don`t even flow to the sea. Only the Indus flows to the sea but it too is dry for many months, said environmentalist and researcher Nasir Panhwar.

Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research said that only Sindh should have a say in matters concerning the Indus. `There used to be a SindhPunjab Agreement in 1945 which has been forgotten,` he said. `According to it not just the rivers but the ground water as well was to be quantifiedbefore the distribution of waters between both provinces. But no one from Sindh was taken on board in the Indus Waters Treaty,` he said.

Activist and author Zulfiqar Halepoto said that when water was no longer part of the political agenda, then civil society activists who talked about it should be appreciated.

`There used to be a mindset some 15 to 20 years ago which said water was only needed for agriculture and what would fish do with it?` he said, adding that if the rivers in Pakistan were to be saved they should be free-flowing.

`Canal systems and dams dry up the rivers,` he said.

Mushtaq Gaadi, an academic, said that the basic problem with dams and barrages was that they were introduced by the British who ruled here.

`Before that there was the network of flood drains. But such streams were suitable downstream and not upstream,` he said.

Advocate Khalig Junejo said that rivers gave birth to civilisations such as the oldest Indus Valley Civilisation.

`But now cities such as Thatta, Badin and Sujawal are turning into arid land, because the rivers are no longer there to stop the inflow of seawater.

Dr Ayub Sheikh, member of the governing board of the Arts Council of Pakistan, warned that the controlling of rivers would lead to major destruction. `When you hurt nature, nature too gets back. The drying of rivers will also lead to climate change,` he said.

Chairman of PFF Mohammad AliShah said that water was a gift from nature for all species. `And when powerful human beings interfere in this water democracy by diverting the water, building dams and also polluting the waters those affected by all this stand up and start movements such as the anti-dam movement.

Dams have also been decommissioned,` he said, giving the example of America, where they did it to save their salmon.

Mr Shah also said that in March 2017, a river in New Zealand was also given rights of a person by the parliament there which was implemented through a bill. `Giving rivers personal rights is now a movement that is spreading fast all over the world. So maybe in Pakistan, too, the parliament [should] get the Indus personal rights,` he said while adding that the PFF was working on this by making people aware of rivers and movements to save them.

`It would be great if the Sindh Assembly could pass a bill for it,` he said before sharing the Indus River Rights Act draft developed by the PFF.

`I also suggest taking small steps in the beginning by giving the Indus delta personal rights first,` he said before announcing that their campaign would carry on till next year for this cause.

`The Indus gave birth to Sindh. If the Indus lives, Sindh lives and then the people of Sindh also get to live because allourlives are connected to the river,` he concluded.