CHANGING THE FATE OF THARIS

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Apr 16 - 22, 20
12

Under the limelight of overwhelming statistics, it is proved that Thar coalfield is the biggest energy resource in Pakistan possessing capabilities to make the country energy secured for the next many decades to come. Not only local but foreign companies also are game for the investments in exploration and development of black gold occurring in billions of tons across one of the country's despondent regions.

Having discovered back in 1989, Thar coal reserves are still unexploited and left unattended to change the fate of Pakistan and people living in the underdeveloped area of Thar.

While the onus of underdevelopment and myriad of issues facing the population of Thar lies on the shoulder of the government, private companies drooling over the hot chocolate cake cannot be absolved from this at all. They have invested millions of dollars in feasibility studies and partly development of infrastructure e.g. road leading to a particular leased block. Local community developments too, notably, remain their focus. In spite of that, majority of population in Thar is reeling under the miserable conditions.

Health problems and drinking water issues of the deserted Tharparkar are too enormous to be solved by an individual or one-time efforts of a commercial entity coveting for flawless social audit. Combined efforts of state as well as the private stakeholders should be rendered to get poor in the rural areas rid of the decade-old health issues and chronic diseases endemic to the underdeveloped district of Sindh having more than one million population.

Last year's study by Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) found serious diseases of dental and skeletal fluorosis, osteosclerosis, thyroid, and kidney and bone and joint deformations among population of Thar due mainly to malnutrition and unhygienic conditions.

Since average rainfall level is very low i.e. 100 to 300 millimetres per annum, majority of the population relies on underground water, which contains fluoride of 13ppm, much higher than the standard level of one ppm. Undoubtedly, such a highly contaminated water is unsafe for human consumption.

There are a plenty of myths about technical and commercial viability of Thar reserves. However, according to the statistics presented by the United States geological survey and geological survey of Pakistan, the coalfield reserves are estimated to be more than 175 billion tons. Lignite coal resources are equivalent to 50 billion tons of oil, more than the aggregate oil resources of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

On ground, there is yet to appear windfall however. Pakistan produces merely two per cent of its electricity from coal in contrast to global share of coal in power generation at 41 per cent and 64 per cent in India.

Considering community development as their core responsibilities under whatsoever international obligations, some petroleum and mining exploration and production companies try to improve the lives of people of the areas where they can grab commercial benefits through exploration of natural resources.

UK-based Oracle Coalfield, which was recently granted mining lease, has released its CSR programme to be started in May 2012 in media. The programme includes job creation, training of local population, veterinary services for livestock developments, establishment of medical centres, and supply of clean drinkable water.

The company stroke an agreement with Karachi electric supply company to supply it coal-generated electricity of 300 megawatts by 2015, which will be extended to 1,100 megawatts later on. Oracle plans to invest $610 million in open pit and $224 million on mining equipments, according to the media reports.

Thar desert is a source of natural gas as well. Perhaps, the first major discovery of gas in the desert occurred in 1993 when OMV hit a natural gas reservoir at Miano.

OMV, the biggest international gas producer in Pakistan since it is reportedly meeting 15 per cent of gas requirements in the country, has been undertaking community development programmes in its concession areas.

In recognition of its hepatitis B prevention project initiated in Miano and Sawan back in 2006 in collaboration with the World Health Organization, the company has also received Trigos 2007 award, which is a famous Austrian accolade conferred on the companies as rewards to their CSR activities.

The objective of the project was to administer 6,000 children and 3,000 mothers with anti-hepatitis vaccination.

There are 57 villages with 970 households and 4,000 people in Miano in district Sukkur, spreading over an area of 525 square kilometres. In Sawan, there are 161 villages with 5,000 households and 20,000 population.

Though it affects everybody, hepatitis makes children its prime target. The disease is spreading at a fast pace in the underdeveloped areas of Pakistan mainly due to infected water, improper sanitation, and malnutrition.

Listed as the industrial company in Austria, OMV is said to be the oil and natural gas behemoth in the central Europe with oil and gas reserves of 1.3 billion boe. United Nations Global Impact has also acknowledged the CSR efforts of OMV.

The study jointly conducted by DUHS, the Pakistan council for scientific and industrial research (PCSIR), and a local NGO association for water, applied education and renewable energy (Aware), also emphasized on the installation of desalination plants to ensure supply of decontaminated water in the area since more than 80 per cent of groundwater is not suitable for human consumption.

"What we need here are desalination/fluoride ion removal plants," Ali Akbar Rahimoo, executive director of Aware told IRIN-a United Nations humanitarian news and analysis service. "The NGO has installed windmills to get water from deep underground, and small plants for desalination and removal of fluoride in different villages, but that is still not sufficient," he said.

Instead of giving marginalised communities alms, there should be sustainable arrangement to enable local population to earn bread and butter.