Grabbing water bodies threatening fishermen’s survival

KARACHI: Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Chairperson Mohammed Ali Shah linked the degradation and destruction of fisherfolk livelihoods to direct ‘water grabs’ and indirect dispossession by commercial harvesting of supposedly public water bodies that resulted in reduced productivity for subsistence fishers.

He contributed these remarks while addressing the second session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on a United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, held recently in Geneva. He said this situation applies also to pastoralists and foresters dependent upon the ‘commons.’

The session comprised representatives of peasants, indigenous people, pastoralists, fishers and rural workers from around the globe, who pledged to have been constructively engaging in this process of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, from the field, pasture, our workplaces around the world and here in Geneva for many years. He expressed the happiness to see the ongoing process and the constructive contributions from many states and civil society organizations.

Shah emphasized on the public infrastructure for ‘energy security,’ which threatens the quality and quantity of water available for peasants. “In this age of ‘public-private’ partnerships, corporate takeover of water is becoming a specially opaque grab of all natural resources,” he added.

He exposed the role of markets, where profits are created by state action and inaction. In this regards the paradox of food trade is the unaffordability of their own produce. Even fisherfolk communities are being disappointed by the fish they are served. With ancestral roots in fishing, PFF chairperson claims to be talking about the importance of water to land and believes that land is of equal importance to water – in the way that land is used and therefore by whom: for personal profit or for shared lives.

He said, “I have to remind myself of the many dimensions of land – cultural, social, economic and political. A unifying theme is the right to food sovereignty, i.e. universal, realised through secure and equitable access to natural resources, that are provided for ecologically responsible use. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, so are livelihoods put at the mercy of economists obsessed with efficiency rather than effectiveness for social purpose.”

However, he said much the egalitarian spirit of local communities, states are required to abstain from negative instruments and policies as much as active pursuit of positive impacts.

“The emphasis upon extra-territorial jurisdiction for human rights is perhaps now even more compelling in the face of bilateral trade pacts. For South Asia, the World Bank is a powerful enemy of peasants. We should be no less worried about BRICS, given what their brutal treatment of nature in their own countries.”

Depicting regional focus, Shah said, “South Asian landscape probably illustrates all forms of inequitable access to natural resources. Our countries are now becoming even more blatantly oppressive, as a means to increase control of the state for enriching global elites. States assume many guises for magnifying exploitation and dispossession, but they can all be gathered together in neoliberal development. We are told that the poor shall inherit the earth, but it will be a barren earth by the time our elites have gone to their heaven!”

He emphasized the need that land to the tiller is a nice way of stressing the rights of peasants. “But it is unnecessarily linked to titling individuals or even households. In fact it can even be dangerous for both equity and ecology and hence for democracy.”

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