Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.
www.kashmirforum.org

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Environmental Degradation in Kashmir is Occurring on Both Sides of the LOC

Zafar says that development at the cost of destruction of environment is self defeating

(Mr. Zafar Iqbal, 32, was born in village Tarar, Rawalakot, in the Poonch district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He did his early schooling in a private school, matriculating through examinations conducted by the Mirpur Educational Board, and completed his higher secondary education from the Government Degree College in Rawalakot. He received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Rawalakot campus), and his M.A. in Mass Communication from the Punjab University in Pakistan. He received international scholarships to attend the International Summer School at the University of Oslo in 2005 receiving a Graduate Diploma in Media Studies, and the Nottingham Trent University, U.K., in 2006-2008 receiving M.A. in Media & Globalization. Mr. Iqbal has been a journalist working in the print and TV media since 1999 and is very active in human rights, earthquake relief and rehabilitation especially involving women and children, and inter-faith harmony. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Press for Peace (PFP) and the Founder-President of the Environmental Journalists Forum, both based in Muzaffarabad. Mr. Iqbal has been invited to numerous national and international seminars and workshops related to human development.)

Perilous Development

Pakistan has initiated a mega power project in its administrative part of Kashmir without fulfilling mandatory environmental obligations required for development projects. Contemporary international environmental laws and standards bound all governments and their publics to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and ecological surveys (both phase1&2) in every developmental project to achieve goals of sustainable development.

Nonetheless, Pakistan’s official Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), has started the construction of US $2.16 billion- Neelum-Jhelum Hydro Project in a remote and scenic Neelum Valley, 100 km to the north-west of Islamabad, through a consortium of Chinese firms in order to generate 969 Megawatt electricity, without fulfilling the set global criteria.

The project will divert Neelum River, which originates from Indian part of Kashmir and also called as Kishangana, through a 47-km long tunnel system to another river Jehlum near Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistan-administered Kashmir. After 8 years of its completion period, it will be the first underground hydropower project of its kind in Pakistan which the government claims is under the terms of the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 reached between India and Pakistan, and the country would get “priority rights” to the use of its waters trough this significant project.

The officials of local Environmental Protection Agency working in project area have confirmed that WAPDA has started the construction work on this mega project discarding environmental considerations. The builders, however, insist that the proposed project does not pose any threats to the ecological system of the area, as an initial study conducted in 1990s had suggested ‘limited environmental impacts of the project’. On the other hand, local ecologists contradict these claims of WAPDA authorities.

“Much has been changed during this period in terms of people’s conditions, needs and ecology and necessitates fresh evaluation of the concealed damages, says an EPA source, forecasting alarming hazards to local ecosystem due to hurriedly-launched commencement of this mammoth development venture, which excruciatingly ignores required mechanisms envisaged for the protection of environment and rights of local populations.

Today, Pakistan, with 40 per cent population without electricity, is facing severe energy crisis. In some areas the duration of load-shedding has reached to 16 hours a day, paralysing national economy and daily routine life as well. Government has already scrapped its long disputed Kala Bagh Dam project after uncompromising reservations from its federating units. The country, crippled by a surge in extremism, suicide attacks and recent military operation against the Taliban, is struggling to overcome its energy deficiencies in order to run its day-to-day affairs in a smooth manner. Apparently, newly initiated mega power project in northeast area is part of its attempts to alleviate huge shortfall in electricity sector which has increased 5,000 MW range.

Ostensibly, in their hastily convalescing measures, Pakistan’s development pundits seem to negate parameters of sustainable development and public concerns. The power authority of the country is being criticised harshly for bulldozing rights of indigenous population, which maintain that government is going to deprive them from their cultivable land and fruit orchards, which already, have been affected by Indo-Pak rivalry along LoC, the de facto border of divided Kashmir, and subsequent earthquake of 2005. Similarly, the package offered for the compensation of farmers’ lands do not equal to the market price of property and it has been termed as disgracefully low, and has created profound resentment among affecters.

“The government must pay the compensation of affected land according to market price and arrange alternative residential towns”, demands Tariq Ali, a representative of Action Committee of affected farmers.

Likewise, local environmental groups also carp deliberate violation of laws by government’s own officials and have expressed their concerns related to prospective environmental hazards on local economy and biodiversity. Ecologists say the project area has significant conservational importance due to abundant of forests, aquatics life and presence of many species of wild life, which have been declared endangered globally.

This scenic valley, where the said project is being built, plays a key role in the configuration of Himaylan ecosystem. It is also serves as the habitat of various rare species considered on the verge of extinction. Pheasants are abundant in this locality and conservationists suggest that developmental activities would impact their natural habit, wildlife nourishment (both terrestrial and aquatic). Ecosystem change also destroys feeding as well as breeding grounds, with a resultant loss of fish species. Projection of large area reduces public access to certain localities, and thereby affects outdoor recreation opportunities. Interestingly, Global Environment Facility (GEF) has contributed millions of funds to protect local natural resources through Machiara National Park Projet which is one of the three globally significant national parks selected for a GEF-funded project.

Paradoxically, this severe deviation of conservation laws and measures by WAPDA in this area is also contradictory from world bodies and governments’ efforts for the protection of natural resources and wild life in this important ecological zone.

In Kashmir, 88 per cent population lives in rural areas and depends upon forestry, livestock and agriculture for their existence. Water of rivers and natural springs is also considered a major source for drinking and irrigation of lands located at the banks. Local population around the flow of Neelum river also concern that the diversion of the river would cause an acute water scarcity, making life of inhabitants miserable, particularly, a huge population of capital city of Muzaffarabad would be at the stake, because Neelum river is the chief source of water provision for this population through lifting and purification process.

No doubt, power generation is vital resource of energy in development, which is basic human need but it must not be done at the cost of disruption in biodiversity, habitat loss, fragmentation and the displacement of indigenous populations. Many hydropower plans and strategies are made without looking at the ‘big picture’, and as a result these projects can have negative impacts on the environment. Luckily, some of the damage done to biodiversity by hydropower can be reduced by equipment upgrades, mitigation measures, and proper management. Local user groups and other stakeholders should be involved in decision-making, to keep good relations concerning peoples’ livelihoods and the sustainability of aquatic resources. River systems should be thoroughly studied jointly with concerned agencies (e.g., electricity, irrigation and fisheries, environment authorities; and local authorities) during formulation and application stages of this project.

1 comment:

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