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KARACHI: Coal mining and electricity generation using coal in the region are rapidly changing quality of Thar’s groundwater, according to a scientific study.

The study has detected alarmingly high concentrations of chemicals and hazardous metals in the water being consumed by local people.

The study conducted by the Policy Research Institute for Equitable Development has said that coal mines and power companies operating in Thar release untreated and highly toxic water, containing metals such as arsenic, copper and lead.

Titled “Thar’s Changing Hydrology: Adverse Impacts of Coal Mining and Coal-Based Power Generation on Local Water Resources”, the study was launched on Wednesday by the Alliance for Climate Justice and Clean Energy.

Sharing the study’s findings, Mustafa Talpur, who led the research, said: “Thar has a unique and fragile ecosystem. It is a lively desert. But the coal mining in Thar is affecting the region’s groundwater hydrology. These coal projects were started without considering their effects on the people and the ecology.”

He said groundwater at Gorano was fast becoming contaminated due to seepage from the reservoir of poisonous water, while water table in many villages around the mining areas was fast receding.

Referring to the water samples taken from the field, he said water in the dug wells in Thar is not fit for consumption as it does not meet the standards set by the World Health Organisation. He proposed that the government set up a dedicated institution to manage Thar’s water resources and keep a check on water quality.

“Coal power is a dying technology, but we have just started what the world is leaving behind. Wind and solar have huge potential in Pakistan. The government needs to prepare a plan for a transition towards clean energy,” he added.

Talking about the global institutions’ role in dubious projects, Ahsan Kamal, an academic, said that although the World Bank claims it no longer supports coal projects, it has been giving technical support to Thar’s coal-based schemes.

Criticising the Land Acquisition Act, well-known town planner and social researcher Arif Hasan said that the entire process is unjust.

More than half of Thar has been handed over to coal companies, he said, adding that growing use of coal in Thar and forceful acquisition of land, especially gowchar (grazing) land, have adversely affected the livelihood of the locals and caused various socio-economic problems.

Anis Haroon of the National Commission for Human Rights stressed the need to protect Thar’s unique ecosystem and cultural history. She said the current water-related problems in Thar were predicted years ago, yet the authorities went ahead with the expansion of coal projects.

Sohail Sangi, a local journalist, pointed out that Thar’s coalfield, which is spread over 9,000 square kilometres, is the “food basket” for Tharis. The land will no longer remain fertile due to the coal projects and development in the region, which will lead to food security issues in future, he added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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