Chitral moving towards drought
12 May, 2018
.. by Islamuddin
It is now a truism that future wars would be fought over water. Pakistan is already facing serious water shortage but in mountain areas it was expected that water would not be a problem for at least 50 years. Unfortunately since April this year we are seeing perennial rivers drying up. Two days before I was shocked to see that Doaba tributary of River Lotkuh was at dead level and chicks were fending for food on the dry riverbed. There are at least 6 micro-hydel stations upstream and none is operational in day time. Only at night the smaller ones become operational when farmers release the water diverted for irrigation during the day. This situation has never been observed in recent or distant memory.
It was in this background that I opposed location of site in Begusht for a 500 KV power station and proposed a site downstream where the three rivulets meet but this suggestions was not accepted and seekers of easy project funds carried the day and donors could do nothing in the face of powerful local actors with right connections.Today River Begusht is fast disappearing, thanks to global warming and fast melting glaciers. To add to the problem the water channel is facing sliding and the debris has already buried a big chunk of fertile land and trees. Had our priority been right efforts would have been made first to restore eco-balance by planting new trees before building roads and power stations on disappearing river courses and demolishing the already depleting forest reseves. As a result natural cooling effect that could have been generated by trees to slow down the speed of melting of snows and glaciers, is sadly missing. The larger community and its interests do not figure in this equation having been held hostage to the interests of powerful people. This is proof enough for the lack of empowerment and awareness that some quarters claim to have created.
To add salt to injury, during the same time span, an alternate link road project was started, which again passes through a thickly forested area. Here trees have been cut down to make way for the road. Some of the trees are 1500 years old and are mostly the precious walnut variety. Apart from contributing to the natural and picturesque ambiance, these trees had cultural importance as well. The people have and could have done without this substitute road but nature cannot do without trees. The same has been done to Begusht where trees were cut down to make way for the water channel of the doomed power house. The resuts of deforestation are already visible in the first year. Land slidings and low water levels have rung alarm bells for the sustainability of the project. The Parabeg power house, another 500 KV facility has been held hostage by the management leaving the donors with the Mogh station which is their only saving grace. The mega water supply project for Garam Chashma town, the third in the line, has already collapsed. Its sub-standard materials and defective installation could not stand the first winter but no heads have rolled despite complaints which may have been used to extract money from the contractor. There are numerous fake and defective projects on which tax payer’s money was used but with no benefit for the people. These things will effect PTI in the coming polls along with its choice of lady MPA who allegedly sold her vote and dysfunctional party hierarchy that voters in Garam Chashma have not seen since the last elections.
One wonders as to why financial and performance audits, as well as, environment impact study of these projects were not carried out? Was there a grand collusion? The billion tree tsunami and anti-corruption campaign will have no meaning if such lapses are to be tolerated. Chitral has already been denuded of its forest wealth by the timber mafia in collusion with officials and elected representatives. If NAB decides to enforce its writ in Chitral and files cases for assets beyond means, 90 % officials, contractors and elected representatives would find themselves in jails with their properties confiscated. The fact that MMA is poised to win elections in Chiral is because others have done badly and could not promote politics of issues, thus leaving the field wide open for MMA to cash in the sectarian cheque.The only silver lining in this dismal situation is the new Deputy Commissioner, who like his predecessor, Mr.Warraich is trying to establish writ of the administration and has taken at hand restoration of government lands and pristine natural environment of Chitral as well as removal of encroachments. It is time that anti-corruption agencies decided to say that enough is enough and it is crunch time. All the ill-gotten money should be returned to the treasury to save the country from imminent collapse under the debt burden. Justice Javed Iqbal has set precedent for others to follow. It is time that conscientious and well meaning Chitralis got together and launched anti-corruption campaign, preparing and forwarding cases to Ehtisab Comission and NAB for investigation. Chitralis owe it to themselves and to posterity to take the bull of impunity by the horns. .. Islamuddin, Garm Chashma Chitral 12 May 2018