A plea to my Friend, Khursheed Ahmad Shah

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When will we wake up?

There is no doubt that Eastern Sindh is rapidly falling behind. Lack of water resources is spreading rural poverty, landless haris lack the means of survival, youth unemployment is increasing and despondency is increasing with no hope in sight. Rural GDP is stagnating and industrial development is lagging

 

Khursheed Ahmed Shah is an honourable member of parliament. As leader of the opposition he represents the entire nation from Karachi to Khyber. He is a towering personality and always conveys a sense of balance and wisdom when he speaks on national issues. He is also a staunch defender of provincial rights and privileges. He represents the people of NA 199 Sukkhur, which is the leading division of Sindh east of the Indus.

Eastern Sindh represents the backward part of Sindh. From Kashmore to Mithi, Eastern Sindh has almost sixty percent of the land mass of Sindh. It has almost forty percent of the population of rural Sindh, but comparatively has a much larger share of poverty, unemployment, stunted children and malnutrition. Its backwardness is rooted in the fact that it is the most water starved area of Sindh. Encompassing districts of Kashmore, Ghotki, Sukkur, Sanghar, khairpur, Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, Tharparkar, Badin and Thatta. It has around sixteen members of parliament who have never bothered to speak about the deprivation of their area. Due to Eastern Sindh’s deprivation the urban rural economic divide in Sindh is growing and rural poverty is rapidly expanding.

There is no doubt that Eastern Sindh is rapidly falling behind. Lack of water resources is spreading rural poverty, landless haris lack the means of survival, youth unemployment is increasing and despondency is increasing with no hope in sight. Rural GDP is stagnating and industrial development is lagging. Investment is shrinking. Millions of acres of state land could have been developed and allocated to the haris but ruling classes of Sindh want to appropriate water resources and state land for themselves, representing a clear conflict of interest.

In short, Eastern Sindh is experiencing the worst declines in average per capita income since long. Over 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. This combination of low per capita incomes, low calorie intake, as well as unemployment, inadequate access to education, sanitation, health facilities, an unhygienic environment, and insecure access to productive land and water resources represents an explosive mixture.

Recognising the situation, General Pervaiz Musharaff had initiated the Rainee and Thar canal projects in Eastern Sindh. The idea was to bring water from the Indus River to the arid districts of Sindh and thus lay the foundations of sustained growth in this vital region of Pakistan. However, before these life sustaining major irrigation projects could be fully completed he was removed from power in 2008. The PPP government of Asif Ali Zardari came into power both at the federal and the provincial levels. Mr Khursheed Ahmed Shah was sworn in as a federal minster. For inexplicable reasons the projects were left incomplete. The promise of development was snatched away from the people and since then thousands of more children have died in Eastern Sindh due to poverty and malnutrition and nobody has been held accountable for this deliberate lapse.

It is a known fact that water storage and irrigation projects in Pakistan are the biggest weapons against widespread poverty and hunger in the rural areas. Wherever irrigation water is delivered prosperity and modern amenities like power and transport follow. Employment expands and poverty declines. The on-farm agricultural output growth contributes to off farm economic activity as well. With efficient utilisation of water, agriculture output can be expanded manifold. My conservative estimates are that for every million acre feet of irrigation water we can get a billion dollars of agricultural output a year. A billion dollar output in the agriculture sector ultimately contributes three to four times more to the overall GDP of the economy.

With the construction of Kalabagh Dam Sindh will get over four million acre feet of water every year for irrigation purposes. This water can bring 2.5 million acres of land in Eastern Sindh under high value cultivation comprising, olives, mangoes, cheekus and other fruits and vegetables. This would add around $4 billion per year to the agriculture economy of Sindh. When the off farm impacts are taken into account Sindh output will increase by about $10-12 billion. Poverty in rural Sindh would be wiped out. There will be rapid capital formation and employment generation. Lives of at least 10 million poverty stricken people of Eastern Sindh would be transformed. This would be nation building at its finest.

It was therefore very sad that my friend Khursheed Ahmed Shah, without giving much thought to the benefits that his region and constituents would get, castigated Chairman WAPDA for highlighting the benefits of Kalabagh Dam. As our national leader Khursheed Shah should have welcomed what chairman WAPDA was saying and should have castigated those who cancelled the Thar canal project and those who have deprived the poor people of Sindh and Pakistan from intelligently harvesting a natural bounty of land and water that God has bestowed on Pakistan. When will we wake up?