Zulfikarabad or Destruct-abad?


Similar to the port city of Gwadar in Balochistan, the future of the proposed mega project of Zulfikarabad, Sindh also hangs in balance due to severe resentment prevailing among the local population fearing large-scale migration of people from other provinces and the Sindhis not getting their due shares.
Following the Sindhi nationalists viewpoint, civil society activists, writers, professionals and political leaders on Saturday termed the Zulfikarabad project as ‘disastrous’ for Sindh and unanimously formed the ‘Anti-Zulfikarabad People’s Commission’.
The Gwadar port has also met opposition from the Baloch people who fear that actually other provinces will reap the real economic benefits of this development and that they may be converted into a minority in their own cities.
At a consultative meeting organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) in Thatta, representatives from nationalist parties among writers, lawyers and intellectuals assured backing to the PFF leadership in a recently launched campaign against the project – spread over 200,000 acres in the deltaic region.
The meeting, presided over by PFF Chairperson Mohammed Ali Shah, was attended by Sindh United Party leader Shafi Karnani, Jeay Sindh Mahaz’s Nawaz Shah Bhadai, renowned educationist Sufi Hazoor Bakhsh, poetess Maryam Majeedi, Awami Tahreek’s Sahib Khan Khoso, Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party’s Ghulam Nabi Shah, Gul Mohammed Khushk and the Thatta District Bar Association vice president among a large number of community activists and civil society representatives.
The participants were of the unanimous view that besides destroying life and livelihoods of local communities, the Zulfikarabad city will also remove the identity of the Indus delta and the historical sites in the area.
The Anti-Zulfikarabad People’s Commission will hold an All Parties Conference (APC) in Hyderabad on November 22, where all political parties, civil society organisations and intellectuals will be invited to participate.
During the period, the political parties and civil society representatives participating in the APC will mobilise villagers in the entire project area to take them into the campaign, convincing them on how they will lose their livelihoods.
From the commission’s platform, the member organisations will approach the civil society in Hyderabad, Karachi and Islamabad about the campaign against the anti-people project to give strength to their voice.
The Zulfikarabad commission will host consultative meetings with all stakeholders in different cities while organising people’s tribunal, where retired judges and renowned judicial representatives will be invited as jurors.
At the meeting, the speakers reminded the Pakistan People’s Party-led government to initiate developmental projects for the local communities, who are prone to disasters due to sea intrusion, persistent water shortage, inadequate education, health and sanitation facilities.
They said the area under the Zulfikarabad project has experienced mass migration in the past 60 years because of depleting natural resources for their livelihoods and drinking water shortage.
The PFF chairman said that sea intrusion has already swallowed 2.2 million acres of fertile lands and the people are being forced into a further helpless situation by developing such anti-people and anti-environmental projects. “Around 250,000 people in the affected area are living a vulnerable life and need immediate help.”
“For the past 30 years, marine ecology in the area has been under threat and now in case the people allow initiating such projects, they will suffer huge losses in terms of displacement and destruction of natural resources,” Shah said. “This is not an issue of the people living in Thatta district only but the entire province will face the consequences. Hence, it is the responsibility of the people associated with political parties and different professions to disregard their affiliations and realise the sensitivity of the issue and raise their voice against it.”
According to the PFF chairperson, the project area of Zulfikarabad will include mangrove forests, more than 300 islands and four major fish-landing sites: Keti Bunder, Kharo Chhan, Dhado Bunder and Shah Bunder, where over 1,000 fishing boats are operating on daily basis and contributing to the national exchequer; whereas, people of around 480 villages will be displaced.
Moreover, the Coastal Development Authority (CDA) in a three-year project plans mangroves plantation and community empowerment over 6,500 hectares while the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is planting mangroves on 350 hectares in Keti Bunder and Shah Bunder, under the ‘Sustainable Coastal Management for Poverty Alleviation and Rehabilitation of Mangroves’ project that will end in 2013.
Through small grants, the CDA is offering incentives to the local communities for their empowerment. The IUCN has also planted mangroves along the Bhuri Goth at an island near Keti Bunder while community-based aquaculture is another ongoing project.
Due to the Zulfikarabad project, these organisations are now unsure about aiming to rehabilitate mangroves forests and empowering communities, the PFF chairman said.
On the Zulfikarabad city issue, the forum drew parallels with the old projects of Diamond Bar Island City and Sugarland City that were planned along the Karachi coastline, in Bin Qasim and Keamari towns.
Shah said the coastal communities in Thatta and Badin should take a lesson from these development projects that caused displacement of indigenous people in old Gizri, Clifton, Keamari and Mauripur, who were not even allowed to enter the jetties for moving their boats in the open sea and had to rely on certain authorities for their livelihoods.