KARACHI: Opposing the use of coal for electricity generation, speakers at a programme have said that anti-environment projects in the name of development will not only endanger public health and environment, but cause further deterioration in the food security situation.
Sixty per cent population of the country, they said, was already food insecure.
They expressed these views at the launch of a campaign, Harvesting Global Food Security and Justice in the Face of Climate Change, at a hotel here on Thursday. The drive has been initiated by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum in collaboration with the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency and Oxfam.
The speakers, mostly members of non-governmental organisations, lamented that though the country had been having bumper food crops for the past five years and was an agrarian economy, a large population of Pakistan was food insecure and there was no food security policy at the national or provincial level.
“Sindh with 14 million acres under crop cultivation has 71pc food insecure households. Out of 23 districts, eight districts have been categorised as extremely poor, most of these districts lie in the southern part of the province and in its coastal belt,” said Jameel Junejo of the PFF.
He referred to the challenges posed by climate change and said there was evidence that the sea level was rising along Pakistan’s coast, but at the government level there was no institutional mechanism to address the issue though hundreds and thousands of people lived along the coast.
Highlighting some key features of the campaign, he said that population in seven districts of the province would be targeted. Under the project, a number of activities would be carried out to mobilise people that included holding community awareness programmes, public rallies, press conferences and formation of theatre groups and capacity building groups.
“We are expecting to establish food and climate change justice forum at the district level,” he said.
Describing the present food insecurity prevailing in Sindh as very serious, Iqbal Haider of the Laar Humanitarian and Development Programme said farmers shackled in the vicious cycle of debt had lost the power to purchase. Growers’ input cost had increased many times and it had become impossible to cultivate anything without the support of corporations that gave credit on interest.
“If flood comes in such a situation, no compensation is offered to the farmer for crop loss. Another factor which is making farmer community food insecure is the hybrid seed that could be utilised only once, though it increases crop production,” he said.
Climate change and the resultant change in cropping pattern, he said, was affecting farmers the most as the growing period of food crops was being delayed that left poor communities without food stocks. The landlord, however, faced no trouble as he could grow non-food crops.
“On top of that, corporations and middlemen exploit poor farmers,” he said.
Dr Aly Ercelan, representing the PFF, said the government planned to set up a number of coal-fired electricity generation plants in the country. A major project was of 1,200 megawatts that had been planned on the Indus river in Jamshoro with the support of the Asian Development Bank that would provide $800m for the project.
A serious problem associated with coal-fired power plants, he said, was the generation of large quantities of ash produced during coal combustion. The residue had been a source of much public concern as it could adversely affect human health and environment, he said, adding that it required spending of another $200m to make a system where there was no chance of ash release into environment.
“But the government has refused to allocate more money for the project,” he said.
He also criticised other projects being launched by other local companies to convert their fuel systems to coal for electricity generation.
“This would directly affect communities living in the coastal areas. Not only their livelihoods would be badly affected as a result of waste release in the sea, but it would also have an adverse impact on their health,” he said.
Sharing his concerns, PFF chairman Mohammad Ali Shah said that anti-environment projects would only bring a false sense of prosperity that, too, he said, wouldn’t last long once people would start experiencing their negative impact.
The deputy food security commissioner –II, Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Imtiaz Gopang, additional secretary for fisheries and livestock Ghulam Mujtaba Wadhar, Dr Sadia of the mass communication department of Karachi University, social activist Punal Sario, Nasir Panhwar of the Friends of Indus Forum, Shahbaz Bokhari of Oxfam and joint director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research Zulfiqar Shah also spoke.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2014