Under the aegis of the Punjab Irrigation Department, Phase I of the Initial Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report for starting an Inland Water Transport (IWT) system in the middle reaches of River Indus was completed in November 2015. The key objectives of the preliminary study was to ascertain the impact on the environment, ecosystem and social activities along the 480km (approximate) between Attock to Daudkhel, and Daudkhel to Taunsa for re-introducing a formal IWT system to carry passengers and cargo.This assignment is being undertaken in two phases. It is of interest to note that the River Indus and the five rivers of Punjab were busy thoroughfares for passengers and freight in the mid-19th Century prior to the advent and expansion of the rail network that replaced IWT services from 1870’s onward.
This assignment was undertaken by Techno-Consultant International (TCI) of Karachi, to highlight key issues and provide mitigating solutions to meet the requirements of the Government of Punjab (GoP), which in September 2014 established the Inland Water Transport Development Company (IWTDC), a 100 percent owned entity of the provincial government. This initiative was taken by GoP to introduce an alternate mode of transport as over 96 percent of the country’s passenger traffic as well as domestic, international and transit trade iscurrently handled by a fleet of heavily outdated and overloaded road sector. Since the last few years, the services of Pakistan Railways, which was playing a supplementary role as the second mode of transport, has been relegated to a negligible position and it may take several years for it to be revived to have a favourable impact on the country’s logistics sector to support its economy.
The study involved desk review of existing historical information, data and literature that were obtained from different sources including federal and provincial departments and the private sector. This information included past reports relating to Pakistan as well international documents highlighting similar IWT development systems, management of national resources (including water management, wildlife, forests, etc.) and conservation of biodiversity that were in place and being practiced in other parts of the world.
The subjects that the study focused on were:
- River Hydrology
- Noise, air and water pollution
- Flora and Fauna
- Dredging and clearing channel for navigation
- Human habitation and existing economic / social activity
- Impact of Project activity on all foregoing sectors
The document also highlighted relevant national regulatory regime (federal and provincial) and international conventions that established guidelines and standards with best global practices to assist in addressing any environmental or socioeconomic concerns that the study would identify.
The key findings of the report are listed below:
- Inland waterways as a means of transportation has been harnessed worldwide in the face of expanding economies as it is considered the preferred alternative not only as a commercial enterprise but also in terms of environmental conservation. The use of fossil fuel is substantially less than what is consumed by motorized road vehicles and diesel-electric locomotives. Similarly, noise and air pollution is comparatively less when traffic on inland waterways is compared with the other two overland modes of transport.
- Pollutants (liquid and solid waste including sanitary waste) from river crafts and ancillary services are minimal but according to best global practices regulatory controls and more importantly ongoing monitoring procedures have been made mandatory to ensure that standards are maintained. With research during the last several decades the methods for the disposal of liquids and solid waste have been refined and duly implemented. The report has listed the options and recommends that these standard procedures should also be adopted, implemented and duly monitored from the onset of the IWT Project.
- The operations of the Project is expected to have negligible adverse impact on the flora, fauna (including aquatic species) and groundwater. The River Indus between Attock and Dauedkhel passes through a gorge comprising mainly of sedimentary soil and rock that is seldom less than 10 meters (about 33 feet) high. By implementing and monitoring the standards and guidelines as narrated in (2) above, the biodiversity of the Project area will be safeguarded further.
- To maintain a safe navigation channel, the locations that need dredging ornatural hazardous structures that have to be demolished, well established global engineering practices are being undertaken in marine and wet development projects. The options that are available have taken into consideration the protection and minimizing the impact to the surrounding environment, including the flora and fauna.
- The Project area is a sparsely populated region of Punjab (and KPK) where the livelihood of the local communities living in small villages and towns are mainly focused on agriculture and grazing of livestock. There are few industries and a percentage of the inhabitants are compelled to seek employment in mega cities of Karachi, Lahore, Multan and other major commercial centres in the country. A sustainable IWT system in place would provide the much needed economic imputes in core activities as well as ancillary services that would support this mew mode of transportation. Furthermore, these small and medium enterprises would provide a means employment to skilled, technical and unskilled labour.
- The report highlights the fact that in order to ensure an effective implementation and an ongoing monitoring process aimed at protecting the biodiversity of the Project area, it is imperative to have a single regulatory authority be given this responsibility. This entity would be required to coordinate the activities of the relevant public (federal and provincial) and private stakeholders as well as ensuring that the implementation of the established standards and ongoing monitoring process are duly observed.
In conclusion, the Initial Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report maintains that there are no serious environmental concerns. It however, stresses the fact that by observing the existing mandatory legal regime (including international conventions that Pakistan has acceded) and by adopting and more importantly implementing the relevant best global practices and standards, any issues that may have an adverse impact on the biodiversity of the Project area can be duly mitigated.