Pakistan’s ‘Environment be Damned’ Approach Having Disastrous Effects

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The Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project (RUDP) is an urban development megaproject in Lahore that runs along the Ravi River. It includes the construction of a 40,000-hectare (100,000-acre) planned city and the rehabilitation of the Ravi River into a perennial freshwater body. However, there has been criticism of this project for some time now.

A recently released fact-finding report by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) serious concerns as to the environmental and human rights implications of RUDP. According to HRCP, “based on consultations with civil society, including environmental activists and experts, and field visits to several villages affected by the land acquisition being carried out under the project, HRCP has reason to conclude that—contrary to the Punjab government’s claims—the RUDP will neither help provide affordable housing to the needy nor protect the local environment. In fact, the project is likely to render homeless hundreds of poor farmers and their families who rely on agricultural production to survive. The opaque nature of the project, and the fact that it has involved top-down decision making, has rightly been criticised by civil society and environmental experts alike.”

Further, the report states, “the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) is flawed on numerous counts, not least of which are poor levels of stakeholder consultation, vague commitments on how noise, water and air pollution levels will be controlled, and lack of attention to cheaper alternatives to cleaning the water body.”

Also, according to HRCP “the Ravi Urban Development Authority has completely disregarded the human cost of its project to local farmers and failed to present sustainable alternatives to their relocation and loss of livelihood. Instead of ensuring greater inclusiveness by involving locals, the government is attempting to strong-arm farmers into selling their lands by involving the army-run Frontier Works Organisation in development work and deploying police to the area as a harassment tool. Many of these concerns have not, moreover, received the media attention they clearly warrant.”

Finally, HRCP demands “that all development work in the area be halted, including land acquisition, until the project’s EIA is revised, with input from all stakeholders—including landowners—and compensation issues settled satisfactorily. Importantly, no forcible occupation of land should take place and no pressure tactics employed to buy land.”

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Author: Syed Hussainy