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RBOD: fears and expectations

December 29, 2008

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Many environmentalists, water experts and landowners view the construction of Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) as a repeat of the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) which has proved disastrous for the people of Lower Indus basin specially the Badin and Mirpurkhas districts.

They fear that poisonous effluents from Punjab and Balochistan will be released into the RBOD which will spoil rich agricultural land, forests and small towns and villages of Dadu, Jamshoro and Thatta districts. An estimated 60,000 acres may become barren.

It is predicted that RBOD will wipe out the delta, the mangroves, the historic town of Aamri and other sites. The project is stated to be a big threat to the environment and ecosystem of the Indus delta and may end up as a failure like LBOD.

However, some experts defend the construction of RBOD and declare it as productive for Sindh. They contend that because of twin problem of water-logging and salinity, the sustainability of irrigated agriculture especially in rice growing areas on the Right Bank of the Indus is at stake. They estimate that the RBOD project would save 4.32 million acres from water-logging and salinity hazards.

They also quote example of degradation of Manchar Lake, the country's biggest fresh water natural lake. Previously, it provided a livelihood to a large number of fishermen and, irrigation water for various crops and aquatic plants. But after making it as final disposal point for effluent of RBOD-I, the Manchar Lake has become an environmental disaster. Continuous supply of poisonous and salty water to the lake for 20 years has reduced the fish production from 3,000 tons in 1950 to 100 tons in 2001 and consequently compelled nearly 40,000 fishermen to migrate from the area.

Thus there is a 'conflict of interest' among the people over the construction of RBOD. What can be done under the situation? It is impossible to fully satisfy different sections of people and serve the interests of all. However, the project can be made useful by taking into account the criticism and suggestions for proper design, operation and maintenance.

The RBOD-II was approved with the cost of Rs14 billion and launched on November 20, 2001. But due to delay in release of funds, the progress was slow; thus it could not be completed within four years as scheduled. The scheme was then revised and expanded to include the drainage water from the agricultural lands of Balochistan also.

In June 2006, the project was handed over to Frontier Works Organisation (FWO). The design discharge capacity of the drain was increased from 2,271 cusecs to 3,525 cusecs in the revised PC and the depth and width of the drain were set at 20 feet and 105 feet respectively. The period required for its completion extended to seven years i.e. December 31, 2008. The cost of the revised project thus increased to Rs29.274 billion.

So far Rs12.5 billion, 43 per cent of the total cost, have been spent on the project. It is said that the main reason for slow progress is difficulty in land acquisition and delay in release of approved funds. It is more likely that RBOD would not be completed on schedule. Apprehension prevails that if the RBOD-II project is not completed on time, the flora and fauna of Manchar Lake will completely be wiped out.

The common fears, reservations and their suggestions are as under

*The release of poisonous water of Balochistan and the Punjab will be discharged into the drain, wiping out the rich agricultural lands, forests and small towns and villages of Dadu, Jamshoro and Thatta .

No drainage water from Punjab will be released into the drain. However, drainage water only from those water-logged areas of Balochistan , irrigated by Sukkur and Guddu barrages will join the drain. Sindh being low lying area, drainage water naturally makes its way to Sindh. Stopping that water would be a difficult task. Even if that water is not stopped and excluded, yet for drainage of water-logged areas of Sindh, the construction of RBOD is vital.

*RBOD will destroy the historic town of Aamri and other sites. No doubt RBOD passes near the relics of Aaamri, but it will not affect the site as archaeological and cultural department has already given clearance that no cultural and historical site will be affected with drain.

*The poisonous water of RBOD will be disposed off into Gharo Creek near Gharo. During high tide the water flow will reverse up to 10 kilometers. The aquifers in the area will be affected. This will destroy the delta, the mangroves and ecosystem.

Before selecting Gharo Creek as final disposal for the drain effluent, study on the risks for degradation of ecosystem might have been conducted. If such a study has so far not been conducted, it should now be carried out. *There will be seepage from RBOD into Indus that would make water of the river hazardous. The volume of seepage effluent will be small as most part of drain is quite far away from the river. Also the seepage water will be free of toxic elements as soil acts as natural filter. Even then, those parts of drain, which are close enough to river and where soil hydraulic conductivity is high, should be brick lined to minimise seepage losses.

*RBOD would take up around 11,000 acres and is likely to render 60,000 acres more barren. Certainly any development project needs some land. For the project, 500 feet wide strip of land throughout length of the drain is occupied. This is equal to about 10200 acres of land. All the land is not agricultural land and it includes barren land too.

How RBOD will render 60,000 acres barren? That is unfounded fear. Rather after completion, it will reclaim 4.32 million acres of waterlogged land on the Right Bank of Indus.

*Nearly 5,000 families had been directly affected by the drain. Certainly some people will be affected with the construction of drain. If the land owners are more than compensated for their lands, they will surely surrender their property happily for the project.

If there is any discrimination in land acquisition and payment, it should be eliminated. If drain crosses any village, the villagers should be provided a choice for alternate housing.

*RBOD will be a repeat of the LBOD, which has repeatedly wreaked havoc in Badin and Mirpurkhas districts. In design of LBOD, the historical and natural disposal locations were ignored and super engineering ideas were imposed against the natural flows. Also negligence in operation and maintenance of the LBOD created havoc in the area.

But for RBOD, it is said, it was properly designed and point of its final disposal was properly selected. Careful operation and proper maintenance of RBOD will make the project successful and fruitful for the people of Sindh.