KARACHI: “Coal energy is dirty energy. It is dirty as well as harmful energy that leads to health hazards, loss of livelihoods, further poverty, loss of lives, destruction of natural resources, loss of biodiversity and the massive displacement of indigenous people due to all these things,” said Mohammad Ali Shah, chairman, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF).

He was speaking during the launch of Air Pollution, Health and Toxic Impacts of the Proposed Coal Mining and Power Cluster in Thar, Pakistan, a study conducted by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), and conducted online via Zoom Meetings by the Alliance for Climate Justice and Clean Energy (ACJCE) on Friday.

“It is not that different from forced displacement. After all, how will the people carry on living at a place where their water sources have been compromised along with the polluting of the air they breathe, where the common grazing lands of their animals too have been encroached upon? But this is what is going on thanks to the coal power project in Tharparkar,” he said, adding that in order to end the sufferings of the Thari people, the government should look towards adopting renewable energy projects while stopping the mining and import of coal for power generation.

The study looks at the consequences of mining and power production in Thar over an operating period of 30 years by examining coal blocks one, two and six, using the data provided by companies responsible for mining and power production.

Its findings show that Thar will be a major air pollutant and mercury and CO2 emission hotspot in South Asia, which is expected to be the cause of 29,000 air pollution-related deaths, 40,000 asthma emergency room visits, 19,906 new cases of asthma in children, 32,000 premature births etc.

Some 1,400kg of mercury per year is expected to be deposited from the nine coal plants that have been studied. And 320kg of this will be deposited in the immediate vicinity, a massive public health risk to the 100,000 indigenous people living in the project areas.

The report also indicates a range of failures by the environmental impact assessment (EIA) agencies.

There are errors and omissions in the data used in EIA reports of two coal power projects in block-II and one in block-VI as well as violations of the Sindh Ambient Air Quality Standards and guidelines of the World Health Organisation and the International Finance Corporation as they failed to take into account the mercury pollution, which is perhaps the most dangerous pollutant in coal power production.

“Since Pakistan is already suffering from air pollution levels that are among the highest in the world, the emissions induced by the coal mines and power plants of Thar will further reduce life expectancy in the country and increase the vulnerability of its citizens to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst of CREA.

“One-fifth of the levels of mercury that will be emitted by the coal power plants would be deposited into land ecosystems in the region. Most of the deposition would take place onto cropland and increase the mercury concentrations in crops,” he added.

“Given the actual incidences of legal non-compliance and misreporting involved in social and environmental impact assessments, land surveys, land acquisition and compensation and the monitoring processes adopted for development of Thar coal mines and power plants, what the study reveals is just a proverbial iceberg of misleading the public through data manoeuvring,” said advocate Zubair Ahmad Abro of Alternative Law Collective, who has been fighting a legal battle for the communities adversely impacted by coal power projects in Thar.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2020

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