THE Asian Development Bank has pledged technical assistance for developing a plan to clean the Ravi river in response to a call by the Punjab government. A report in this paper which confirms the ADB’s approval recalls that some 50m people live in this river basin in Pakistan, including 24m urban dwellers in Punjab’s major cities of Lahore and Faisalabad. The cleaning up of the Ravi was in focus while the river was shrivelling up because India had the rights to its water under the Indus Waters Treaty. The ADB notes that the basin is heavily polluted; it is suffering on account of discharges from uncontrolled industrial as well as agricultural growth. How the ADB help is going to manifest itself in practical terms is not yet clear. The news about the offer of assistance is a bit surprising though, as the Ravi had been slipping from memory.
The earlier debate generated when the river was turning into a sewage nullah had seen government after government, right through the 1990s and later, come up with plans to rescue it from its rotten condition. Indeed, some of the most flowery schemes involved beautifying the old riverbed. These turned out to be more sloganeering than anything substantial. Then, slowly, the flood of ideas subsided. Neither officialdom nor the general public showed any interest. It was as if all those plans of resurrecting the dead river were unable to get any outside backing — which was considered vital as the government did not have the means to salvage the Ravi on its own. In fact, there were periods of total silence on the issue as urban development projects were initiated with zeal. Even the laments about the great stream which once saw many a king flow out of the picture were no longer heard. The ADB’s promise of help could revive hope and renew interest, leading to new ideas on what can be done. The river may still have a lot to offer, if anyone cares to look deep enough.
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2018
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