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As a tourist destination, Swat has been both economically supported and environmentally damaged by tourism. Urban areas and industries along the river Swat have expanded faster than the capacities to manage solid waste, placing heavy burdens on the local infrastructure for industries, public services and governance. According to a research study conducted by our partners, University of Peshawar (UoP), on the extent of industrial and municipal dumping into local springs, rivulets, canals and the river Swat, it has demonstrated that drinking water resources are now significantly polluted. Immediate attention by leadership in all stakeholder groups is now needed. It is noted that the business community has an essential role to play in devising plans to save the Swat River, as well as ensure the future health of local citizens.

Based on the evidence gathered through the research, Community World Service Asia organized a seminar titled “Clean Water is Everyone’s Business”  in collaboration with the SWAT Chamber of Commerce and Industries and the UoP, to build more awareness on the environmental issues around polluted water sources in Saidu Sharif, Swat. The seminar held at the Serena in Saidu Sharif on the 13th of March created an opportunity for businesses and local Government leadership to discuss ways on partnering and recommend solutions to put an end to the degradation of the Swat river, and to identify other local drinking water sources. An approximate of fifty participants from Swat, Peshawar and Islamabad, representing the Swat Chamber of Commerce, University of Peshawar, Swat local government, local organizations and university students attended the seminar.

Dr. Moeen Ud Din, Corporate Director, Training and Development at the Serena Hotels, spoke about the importance of clean environment and the need for water conservation in his opening remarks at the seminar.

Fresh, clean water is a limited resource. Water conservation is key for  the preservation and health of our environment. We must put all our efforts in conserving water. The lesser water is used or wasted by people, the lesser chances of clean water being contaminated. Moreover, water conservation reduces energy use, thus reducing household expenses for many people. We are gathered here to discuss the importance of clean water and exchange ideas on how to save and clean the already polluted water.

Bakht-e-Karam, representing the Swat Chamber of Commerce and industries, urged for the business community to collaborate with the local government and non-governmental organizations to preserve the environmental heritage and protect water resources from contamination by industrial and commercial wastes.  It is this waste that eventually flows into canals and streams. Dr. Bushra Khan, Associate Professor at UoP’s Environmental Sciences Department, shared the findings of the research study being conducted by her team on the various sources and types of contaminants and pollutants that were destroying marine life in Swat rivers.

Dr. Ishaq Mian, another Associate Professor at the UoP presented findings on the status of drinking water sources in and around the Swat district capitol. He said,

Clean water is every citizen’s right and cleaning water is everyone’s responsibility. While turning on a tap and filling a glass to drink seems like a simple enough thing to do, the story of how water goes from a lake or river to your kitchen is actually a complex one.

Professor Dr. Hizbullah Khan, Chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences Department, UoP highlighted the global and local perspectives of Water contamination.

By the year 2029, the world population will be 10 billion and half the world’s countries will outgrow their water supply. People around the world identify access to clean water as the most serious environmental challenge facing the planet today. In sum, people globally recognize water as a key concern. The public and private sector has an important role to play in solving global water challenges, and that companies and others need to provide more information about what can be done to advance a better water future.

 Karen Janjua, Senior Program Advisor from Community World Service Asia highlighted the potential roles of social businesses in preservation of clean water and environment while also creating a cheap clean source of electricity.

The participants took keen interest in the topics discussed which made the sessions interactive as they raised questions and recommendations to the speakers.. James Clark, Public Affairs Officer at the High Commission of Canada shared in the concluding remarks,

Teaching to the public about importance of water conservation is very important in order to save this earth and to maintain quality of human life. We can all start saving water at home. Even if you feel overwhelmed about the global impacts of water scarcity and conservation, do what you can locally and encourage others to follow your lead.

Ameer khan, 39, migrated from Kalam to Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, around three years ago where he was living in a rented house of two rooms, a kitchen and bathroom. To support his family of ten including his mother, wife, six daughters, a son and a disabled father-in-law, Ameer khan sold peanuts on a cart in the market during winter. In the warmer months, he used the same cart to sell local cold drinks. Although with a daily wage of PKR 400/, Khan was not making enough to cover all of his household expenses, he was still able to manage somehow.

Khan’s struggles were amplified in the aftermath of an earthquake that hit Swat along with other areas of Northern Pakistan on October 26, 2015. While one room and a boundary wall were completely damaged, the other room was partially broken thus becoming unlivable. Khan was left with no choice but to shift his family to a neighbor’s home for a few days. Due to limited space, however, he had to bring them back to his own house where the only undamaged space, to live in, was the kitchen. To accommodate everyone in a single room, Khan had to sleep under the open sky during freezing winter nights.

“Ameer and his family have suffered a lot due to this earthquake and despite the damage to his house, he has not been included in the government’s earthquake survivor’s compensation list for reconstruction,”

says Jamil Ahmad, Kisan councilor, local government representative of district Swat.

“We tried our best to include him but unfortunately our efforts were futile as the list had been finalized and could not accommodate more people,” he added.

Among the more urgent needs of the communities, winterization support tops the list of most prioritized needs. Having identified the urgency of providing relief to earthquake-affected communities, Community World Service Asia, has thus far, provided support to 504 families through the funding support of UMCOR in the area.

Ameer Khan was also among the selected right holders for the winterization support assistance.

“I am very thankful to Community World Service Asia for helping me in catering to the most urgent needs of my family. With this support, at least we have something to cover ourselves with during this extreme weather”,

he said.

 

“I have nothing left to lose any more.”

Sartaj Bacha is resident of Village Syedano Kalay in Tehsil Barikot, district Swat and was living quite a content life with his wife and five daughter. Despite not earning very handsomely since he was working on a daily wage, his life in his three room mud house was comfortable. Every morning he walked to work.

“The pouring rain on the day of the disastrous earthquake proved to be a blessing in disguise for my family and myself as I was home with them since I could not go to work due to the continuous rain. As the trembling of the earthquake began, I ran to take my four daughters and wife out of the house to a safer location but in haste I forgot my youngest daughter, Sania, two and a half years, sleeping in bed.”

Sania was buried under the debris of the fallen roof and the panicked parents could hear her helpless cries from beneath the rubble. With the help of his neighbors, Sartaj instantly reached out to Sania after digging her out from the rubble. She was dug out of the rubble uninjured miraculously. “Had I been not at home, I would have lost any one of my family members,” expressed Sartaj, holding Sania in his arms. “I thank God for sending rains as my family’s savior”.

“Even though I lost everything, I have my family with me.” Sartaj and his affected neighbors are living with their relatives in their house in a nearby village. The affected communities in this area have not yet received any immediate support from humanitarian or government agencies.  Most of the community members are being supported with food assistance by their relatives from the winter food stocks that they were holding. That stock is also being depleted quickly since it is feeding more than its intended recipients.

Sartaj Bacha expressed that he has not yet thought of any recovery or rehabilitation plans yet. All of his family’s belongings have been lost with the earthquake. Earning opportunities in Swat have diminished greatly since it has been affected by disasters one after the other- growing militancy, military operation followed by 2010 devastating floods and now this massive earthquake.

Community World Service Asia’s team is currently doing the needs assessment in district Swat, Shangla, Malakand, Buner and Kohistan districts. The initial information received from the field team indicates that winterization support, food and health support are direly needed by the communities. Community World Service Asia will start its interventions within this week for the affected people to cover the gap identified during the assessment.

Collected by Waheed Murad, Community World Service Asia Staff