KARACHI: Fisher folk and other rights activists demanded on Friday replacement of coal for power generation with renewable energy sources.

Speaking at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, Mohammad Ali Shah, chairman of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), said: “The government should stop power generation through dirty fuels such as coal. It would be wiser to invest in the development of renewable and alternate energy resources such as the sun and solar panels, the wind and wind mills, garbage and waste power plants, etc.”

Mr Shah was of the view that various researches by environmentalists and climate change experts indicate that coal power generation has a negative impact on lives. It also proves destructive for the environment and ecology of areas where they have coal power plants. He demanded of the federal government to initiate environment-friendly projects under the Alternative Renewable Energy Policy of 2019. “In the forthcoming budget 2020-21 the government should not allocate any funds for power general through fossil fuels. Instead, the government should allocate funds for renewable energy generation,” he said.

“There have been a large number of people displaced due to the development of coal mines and power generation units, but they have not been provided proper compensation for the lands and houses they lost. The grazing areas for livestock have been destroyed, too,” he said, adding that the government must pay proper compensation to the villagers and allocate land for grazing of animals.

“Currently, the government is installing coal-fired power plants in various parts of the country, including Tharparkar district and in the coastal districts of Karachi along with Hub and Gawadar, all of which pose a great danger to the ecology and the health of human beings living in the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan. Experts also indicate that these coal power plants would destroy the fishing sector, which happens to provide livelihood to millions of fishermen living along the coastal areas.

‘The plants emit an estimated 1,400kg of mercury per year of which one-fifth would be deposited into land ecosystems’

“Still, the main affected people will be in Tharparkar where the government has initiated a number of projects of coal mining and power generation. A total of nine power plants with a total capacity of 3.7 gigawatts are proposed in Thar, which would constitute as one of the largest air pollutant, mercury and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions hot spots in South Asia,” Mr Shah added.

Poisonous emissions

It was explained that researchers say that the poisonous emissions from coal power plants and mines pose a great danger to the health of hundreds of thousands of people living near these power plants in Thar. “The plants emit an estimated 1,400kg of mercury per year of which one-fifth would be deposited into land ecosystems in the region,” said Shah. “And most of the deposits go to cropland, increasing the mercury concentrations in crops. The levels of mercury are potentially dangerous in an area with 100,000 inhabitants,” he said.

More research and statistics shared by Shah read: “The other health impacts due to coal mining and power generation include 40,000 asthma emergency room visits, 19,906 new cases of asthma in children, 32,000 premature births, 20 million days of work absence [sick leave] and 57,000 years lived with disability related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and stroke.”

Besides, it was also shared, that “coal mining and coal power plants create water shortage as these activities would destroy underground aquifers. In the coming years, coal mining in Tharparkar would require 4,000 billion gallons of water for the generation of 10 gigawatts of power. Hence 8,500 billion gallons of water would be consumed. This would create an acute shortage of water in Tharparkar, which is a desert, and which is already facing droughts.”

Saeed Baloch, PFF’s general secretary, and Shujauddin Qureshi of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research were also present at the press conference.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2020