Mirani Dam affectees
By Rafia Asim
While driving on the mall road in Lahore, one notices a handful of people sitting at the Charring Cross round about, holding rain drenched placards and banners, with desolate faces. Among these handful men in shalwar kamiz are one or two young Lahore-based activists, trying hard to aide these balochi speaking protestors in narrating their stories. Fast cars and pedestrians continue to walk by, unaware and unconcerned with the plight these desperate baloch.
These dozen or so men have come more than 1600km from Turbat to Lahore to protest against the non-payment of compensation money owed to them by WAPDA. Back in 2006, in the Musharaf era, the Mirani Dam was constructed on the Dasht River in the Kech district of Balochistan. This multi-purpose dam was expected to provide clean drinking water to the Gwader area, which at that time still held some promise. In the original WAPDA proposal for the construction of the dam, it is stated that the total project cost shall amount of Rs 5.81 billion, while the cost of resettlement action plan shall be approximately Rs 1.68 billion. Needless to say a proper Environmental Impact Assessment was not conducted, neither was a proper tribunal or public hearing of the locals held. The original plans of the dam were decided and drawn back in 1956 and once it was decided that the dam was to be constructed in 2002, no changes in the plans were introduced to make up for the changes on the ground. WAPDA, despite warnings to the contrary, understated the capacity of the water to rise above 244 feet. In June 2007, when the cyclone Yemyin hit the coast of Balochistan, a massive backflow of water occurred at the Mirani dam. According to a report published by Red Cross, two union councils were completely destroyed while a third suffered the destruction of up to 75 percent houses. According to NESPAK, which was the firm responsible for the construction of the dam, the water level reached 271.44 feet above mean sea level that day. Almost 35,000 thousands lost their homes and livelihoods. It was estimated that a loss of more than Rs 5 billion was incurred when the flooding occurred.
The homeless and desperate inhabitants of these villages protested against WAPDA at the time and demanded that they pay compensation money to all those affected by the flooding. The WAPDA management decided to pay the compensation money of only Rs 1 billion to villagers located below 244 feet. Since then the struggle was been continued by the affectees to force WAPDA and the Planning Commission to pay the entire due amount, promised to them in December 2012, so that these farmers can resume their lives.
In the last few days these 19 or so protestors could be seen at Charring Cross, almost six years after the disaster first took place. They took turns at a token hunger strike and were braving the cold and the rain to demand what was rightfully theirs. Despite the fact the Awami Worker’s Party, The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and other organisations have pledged support, WAPDS officials refuse to budge. The protest has been taken to their gates, protestors have personally met with the WAPDA officials, letters have been sent to them by influential individuals, and yet it seems that the Baloch protestors shall have to return home empty handed. After almost two weeks of sitting out in the open, the protestors have no option but to return home. WAPDA has been given a deadline till 10th March to release the entire amount.
It makes one morose to witness such negligence and utter lack of concern for Pakistanis who stand in the way of ‘development’. Expensive and largely unnecessary development projects are served to the nation as shining examples of Pakistan’s march into the 21st century. The thousands that are made homeless and left fending for themselves as their lands and livelihoods are stolen, become inconceivable background noise. It is a great failure on our part as Lahoris, as Pakistanis and as human beings that the expensive journey these baloch undertook materialised into nothing but hollow promises.