Sindh Environmental Protection Agency hearing: Concern over oil exploration at Ramsar sites
By: Muhammad Hashim Khan Bhurgari
BADIN: Residents of Badin have expressed concern over the way large-scale oil exploration is being conducted at two Ramsar sites — Nurry and Jabho lagoons — in Ahmed Rajo union council in Shaheed Fazal Rahu taluka of Badin district.
They said that they would welcome the projects only if they were carried out in a sustainable manner.They were airing their concerns at a public hearing about the project on Tuesday evening at a local hotel. This was the first programme organised by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa).
At the hearing, an environmental management consultant Imran explained the EIA implementation plan. He said that according to the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997 (Section-12), the provincial government and local administration staff were bound to obtain the EIA report from the EPA before the beginning of any project. The act also calls for publishing notices in the national press by government officials before the beginning of the project.
The EIA report, which was distributed among the participants in the hearing, says that ambient air quality of the microenvironment of the project area is influenced by high aridity and salinity of the coastal area and its southward locations.
The coastline of microenvironment of the project is home to Nurry and Jabho lagoons, which were once fishing grounds. The discharge of industrial effluent from sugar mills has destroyed the coastline and the two lagoons in particular.
According to the report, the coastline of Jabho lagoon is under serious oxidative dehydration induced stress which restrains the life processes of living organisms in adjacent areas, such as Ahmed Rajo, and also proving to be a threat to the survival of all migratory birds in the area.
The habitats of migratory birds have incurred irreparable damage and little freshwater flow in the Indus River leaves the delta, lakes and the coastline dry when the birds start to arrive, says the report. The ecosystem thrives only during monsoon rains. Though the floods did raise the level of water in the river, the lagoons themselves are shallow and have no retention capacity of their own, hence they dried up sooner than expected. The migratory birds, therefore, could not stay and had to leave much earlier than scheduled, it adds.
High government officials and leaders from the area were conspicuous by their absence at the public hearing. The forest conservator admitted that he had not read the documents provided by the EPA since he was informed about the meeting only a day before. He went on to say that the project should be carried on a sustainable basis but it should be suspended during the breeding season of animals.
However, contractors and employees of the oil company doing the exploration work were observed hailing the company’s efforts in the district.
A representative of Delta Development Programme (DDP), Abu Bakar Shaikh, and political worker Ali Ahmed Jokhio, suggested restoration of the destroyed wetlands and the protection of the remaining ones. They said that the company carrying out the exploration, United Energy Pakistan (UEP), must stay away from the Nurry Lake and plant trees instead.
The participants suggested locating well sites at a minimum distance of 500 metres from the residential communities for mitigating the impact of noise and gaseous emissions. In case, an archaeological site was discovered during the survey, the exploration company should be made liable to stop the work and notify the authorities after demarcating the area. If archaeological sites are present, then they should be kept at a safe distance, they added.
However, when Dawn got in touch with a social activist and land lord of Golarchi taluka, Allah Bachayo Panhwar and Azeem Notkani, respectively, they seemed to be miffed about the fact that the government did not ask them for their suggestions.
Those present at the public hearing included director-general environment Rafiuddin Siddiqi, media coordinator Sabeen Jatoi, manager UEP health safety and environment Zia Hassan Siddiqi and environmental studies manager Saquib Ajaz Hussain.