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Jhimpir projects yet to benefit local populace

“Nothing has changed. We figure nowhere on the world map,” says Asif Ali sarcastically when asked to comment on the development that his hometown has witnessed over the recent years during a visit to Jhimpir — part of Thatta district and Gharo-Keti Bunder wind energy corridor.

Jhimpir has been in the news for quite some time mainly because of a fast growth of wind turbines in the energy corridor. While a few private firms have been working on the ground, the process to accord official approval to other companies for operation is under way.

“People are even deprived of drinking water though they live near a big [Keenjhar] freshwater lake,” says Mr Ali, a senior medical officer at a basic health unit in Jhimpir.

According to the residents, piped water system does not work in the area since little water is supplied through it. People associated with a wind farm had tried to sort out the problem by taking out underground water with the help of boring machines, but that did not help either since the underwater was found to be saline.

“If water can be supplied from the lake to the whole of Karachi and other towns of Thatta, why can’t we get water from the lake since it’s located near to our homes and part of our district,” asked a resident.

An acute lack of drinking water was found to be badly affecting health of town residents, with most of them living in abject poverty and suffering from diseases such as gastroenteritis and kidney infections. In complicated cases, they said, people either had to travel to Thatta or Hyderabad. But that cost a lot of money and not everyone could afford it, they added.

“Our major issue is the absence of drinking water and lack of gynaecological facilities. There have been cases when pregnant women died on their way to a hospital,” said Khair Mohammad, a young man in Suleman Palari village.

There were also complaints against the wind farms, which, they said, employed people for a short term and then sacked them as soon as their need was over. Wind turbine operation, they said, hadn’t benefited them at all since there was no respite from power outages. Jhimpir city had been facing 10-hour loadshedding on a daily basis, they added.Commenting on the issues, Ghulam Rasool Khatri, representing World Wide Fund for Nature that has been operating for nature conservation in the Keenjhar Lake area for some years, said that water issue was chronic in Jhimpir and could be resolved with the support of the government and wind farms operating in the area.

“It’s the government basic responsibility to provide water to people by making its public health engineering department fully efficient. Supply from piped water is erratic because this department often runs into default on paying its electricity bills or fuel to run its station,” he said.

Once water from piped system was available, people involved in wind farm projects could help set water purification units, he said.

Syed Tanweer Hasan, manager at the Fauji Fertilizer Company Energy Limited that started commercial production of electricity with the help of wind turbines, claimed that the company had taken a few steps to attend to the needs of people in Jhimpir as part of its community service. “We have installed a boring-water system and hand pumps at different villages. But this is definitely not enough to meet the villagers’ requirements. The government has to step in. This is critical because the area we are working in is distinctively divided on tribal lines and people like us can’t do much here without official assistance,” he said.

The firm, he said, had renovated a number of schools and provided them with furniture. It had also initiated construction of a two-room gynaecological unit at the basic health unit.

About the complaints over employment, he said that the firm had employed 600 people from the local community when wind turbine installation process was under way. “We have to lay off the staff since that phase is over now. Besides, it is too difficult to offer jobs here since most people are illiterate and have no skills,” he said.

The firm, he said, supplied electricity to the national grid (Hyderabad Electric Supply Company) under an agreement with the government and it was Hesco’s job to reduce load-shedding hours and provide electricity to its consumers.

Syed Mumtaz Hasan, country manager at the Zorlu Enerji Pakistan that has set up a wind power plant in Jhimpir, said that the company had surveyed the surrounding villages to look into communities’ problems and demands.

“Currently, we are supplying three water tankers on alternate days to two to three villages on a daily basis. However, we plan to set up tube-wells and boring water-system according to villagers’ needs. There is also a proposal to help people in cultivation in the area,” he claimed.

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