WATER RESERVOIRS

CHOTIARI AFFECTEES: IN THE SEARCH OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION

HABIBULLAH MAGSI,
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
May 17 - 23, 2010

The water reservoirs have been part of human evaluation, history and development, if they have been built with the intention to improve human quality of life. No doubt, it can be source of major social, economical and environmental conflicts, when its actual output will be far below that for which it was planned and it's financial, social, and environmental costs will be much greater than expected. There are several examples in this regards, where, Chotiari water reservoir is one of them. The Chotiari water reservoir (which was wetlands complex) lies in Sindh province on western wings of Nara desert commonly called as Achhro Thar (white sandy desert) at about 35 kilometers northeast of Sanghar town. The reservoir occupies an area of about 18,000 hectares and has water storage capacity of 0.75 million acre feet (MAF) flooding an area of approximately 160 km≤ in three districts of Sindh province. The aquatic features of the reservoir area comprise diversity of small and large size (1-200 hectares) freshwater and brackish / salty water lakes. The main storage of the reservoir has the Thar desert on one side, is bounded by sand-hills towards north-east and south-east, the Nara canal towards the west and south bunds and dikes surround the reservoir: the northern bund with 19 km long embankments, western bund of 14 km, the southern bund with 16 km and south-eastern dikes, length of 9 km long.

The project was approved in 1992 and the work was initiated in 1994. It was to be completed in three years, by December 1997, with a cost of 1.5 billion rupees (approximately US $ 26.3 million), where Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) is recognized as feeder canal of the dam. Due to ineffectual planning and corruption the project was delayed by five years up-to December 2002, with a total cost of six billion rupees, which is approximately US $ 105 million. Land in the surrounding area of the embankments is largely waterlogged full with reeds and wild grasses. Due to full storage in the dam area to the extent of about 0.75 MAF, the grazing area within the embankments is mostly sub-merged in the reservoir since 2005. This has caused relocation of periphery villages and difficulties for fishing boats which are not properly equipped. In the past, the Chotiari lakes area was characterized by wetlands, riverine forests, desert scrubs and sand dunes, which provided an ecological richness, and nesting ground for resident and migratory birds, hog-deer, local species of crocodile, variety of fish species, otters, fresh water turtles and was also considered as haven for local people. These lakes also supported grazing, fishing and agricultural activities of indigenous people and touristic entertainment services to nationals but after the construction of reservoir, the area lost its natural beauty and features.

According to the Chotiari resettlement agency (officials) estimates, there are 594 affected families, of which 205 are farmers, 48 farmer landowners, 117 zameendar (landlords), 168 livestock breeders, 21 fishermen, 5 laborer and 20 others. The community representatives and their organizations strongly challenge these figures as their surveys identified a total of 993 families that were directly affected by the construction of the reservoir, of them 382 are livestock breeders, 221fishermen, 242 farmers, 127 landlords and 20 government servants. It shows that the official surveys fell well short reaching out to the all direct affectees let alone the indirect affectees. So, In the name of development these families were forcibly evicted to build the Chotiari water reservoir, where they have lost everything...their homes, livelihood, farmlands, grazing grounds and fishing ponds, and small handicraft-industries. These people are living as nomads, majority of them still in the search of shelter also. According to some independent studies "these people were well-settled in their ancestral homes before the "development" and their lives were simple but they were happy.

Since, several society organizations have advocated the cause of Chotiari effected peoples. Compensation and resettlement issues have not been resolved for most of the communities as yet. The government's resettlement and compensation policies, in fact, are made without considering the economic and social conditions of the displaced people. These plans are without exception spoiled by stories of corruption, favoritism and mismanagement. According to UN based report on resettlement plan, the government itself has acknowledged that funds were defalcated, where several inquiries have been instituted to determine as to who is the responsible for this, but no succession against impunity has documented.

Conflicts over the construction of big dams have grown into forceful policy debates in numerous countries around the world, but this case is supposed to be one of the planned social and environmental tragedies. In fact, very basic idea of the arising the conflict is, changes or proposed changes, perceived by some local actors as contrary to their interests and wishes. Due to the materiality of their medium, conflicts have physical origins in construction, landscaping, infrastructure development, property degradation or destruction, etc. The affectees of the Chotiari reservoir were never consulted or invited to participate in the decision to build the reservoir or in other words we can say that the project was imposed on them. The authorities appeared to be irresponsible towards the needs and preferences of the affectees to the extent that their views and concerns were never considered in the assessment of the market value of the land and property and finalization of the compensation rates. In addition to this, the selection of the relocation site was carried out without informing and involving the displaced families who were supposed to go and earn their living there.

Indeed, this reservoir was built without any concern with the people's quality of life and with the environment, which generated devastating disasters from the social and ecological point of view. After all, government should acknowledge and to review their policies to try to pay debts to the society. Throughout this text, we try to arrive at some evidences, for this conflictive case resulting from the irresponsible treatment of the social and environmental impacts of great projects such as Chotiari water reservoir, with which the restructuring process has been conducted and the great risk is witnessing in the near future. In addition, some reflections are made about the current situation and about measures that government should take to pay the social and environmental debts to affected families and to avoid the reproduction of catastrophes in the future.

CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS

The strategy of only recognizing the affected area those who have property rights, while considering that there are no people, there are no workers or dwellers, there is only property, and in these terms, the displacement is limited to and is solved by infinity of individual buying and selling actions. Thus it would be human right violations consequent to the implementation of dams in the country. Due to the seriousness of the situation, it would be suggested and proposed to prevent, evaluate and mitigate the social, economical and environmental impacts of the implementation of such projects as well as to preserve and repair the rights of the affected people, and some emergency measures would be taken by considering that policies that are exclusively compensatory and even the mere resettlement have failed to replace the life conditions of the affected people, plans for the recovery and economic and social development of the affected people and communities, based on popular participation methodologies, must be elaborated and implemented.

The writer is PhD research fellow INRA-AgroParisTech, Paris, France can be contacted at habib.magsi@agroparistech.fr , habib_magsi2000@yahoo.com