The picture of Thar Desert painted by the media is one of destitution, drought and death. While this is partially true, it is also one of the most populated deserts in the world and home to world heritages sites and endangered species. It represents an indigenous people and their centuries old way of life, largely undisturbed till the arrival of the Chinese and Pakistan joint venture to excavate the 175 billion tonnes of lignite coal deposits that lie beneath the land and build coal fired power stations to meet Pakistan’s energy demands.

The residents of the area are perturbed by this invasion on their land and rightly so. While the world moves away from coal powered electricity generation, especially dirty fuels like lignite, Pakistan is embracing it with open arms, ignoring the development of other, cleaner options like hydel energy.

The people of Thar have traditionally been herders who plough the fields when it rains. Twenty-five per cent of these people live within the proposed coal development area. Not only are they being pushed out of their centuries old land, but are being paid a price of Rs185,000 per acre, an inadequate price to put on one’s heritage and ancestral roots.

The villagers will lose their valuable grazing lands to the coal project, one that contains a unique ecology indigenous to the area. The Thar Desert is home to 7 million cows, goats, sheep and camel and provides more than 60% of the milk, meat and leather requirements of Sindh, the supply of which is seriously threatened by this mega project. The other more serious concern is the drought in the desert, that has led to the death of more than 3,000 children in the past three years and the fear of losing more precious groundwater to coal excavation is increasing the opposition to the project. These concerns are legitimate and deserve to be heard. Let us not destroy the natural ecology and the heritage of these people for electricity that leaves the country worse off.