Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home page No. 41, Spring/Summer 1997
The CCD, Part II: Asia & Americas

RIOD and SCOPE: Communication initiatives and local projects in Asia

by Tanveer Arif

NGO involvement, communication, and community participation are key elements of the CCD. This article describes some NGO initiatives for Asia-wide communication and South Asia community projects.


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Asia contains the largest amount of land affected by desertification of any continent, just under 1,400 million hectares. Some 71% of its drylands (one third of its entire area) are moderately to severely degraded. Therefore, Asia can be taken as the region most affected region by desertification in terms of total lost productivity.

Since its beginning in 1994, RIOD (The International NGO Network on Desertification and Drought) has worked to facilitate communication among NGOs on the issues of land degradation, desertification and droughts. As the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) enters into force, RIOD's member NGOs are working hard on several communication efforts to help catalyze implementation of the CCD. SCOPE (Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment), an environment and development NGO based in Pakistan, is the RIOD focal point for Asia and is coordinating these continent-wide communication efforts. In addition, in its own subregion of South Asia, SCOPE is participating in several local projects aimed at combating the effects of desertification directly.

It was envisaged at the inception of the RIOD that a five- point Action Plan would need to be implemented in desertification-affected areas. SCOPE's initiatives have been formulated on the bases of RIOD's objectives and Action Plan. In this connection, the following communication initiatives have been undertaken by SCOPE to promote implementation of the CCD in Asia.

Communication Initiatives

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Asian NGO Conference

A regional conference of Asian NGOs was organized on 27-30 January 1997 in Pakistan's capital city, Islamabad. To give the conference a high profile and maximum political thrust, SCOPE invited President Farooq Khan Leghari, who is a dryland farmer himself, to give the inaugural address. The conference set a motivated regional action program of short-, medium- and long-term actions to be taken by NGOs from 23 countries, which included popularizing the Convention among masses through media, national consultation and translation into local languages.

E-Mail Conference

The benefits of e-mail are many: it is faster than postal mail, often cheaper than faxes or telephone connections, and able to reach a wide audience quickly. E-mail use among NGOs allows for unmonitored exchange of information and communication with virtually any other individual or group. Information obtained through these connections may be used to address local policy implementation or to coordinate action among NGOs in a given area. Access to e-mail is not merely a matter of convenience; it also represents a significant departure from an authoritarian, centralized system of organization and information control. In this respect, it is very much in line with the "bottom-up", cooperative approach to desertification activities advocated by the CCD.

In order to take maximum advantage of these benefits, an e-mail conference on desertification has been initiated jointly by SCOPE and ELCI (Environment Liaison Centre International) for the Asian region. The main function of this electronic conference is to promote the gathering and dissemination of desertification-related information. This is done by "animators" whose responsibility is to receive information from the grassroots level, edit the information as needed, and disseminate it to other NGOs and networks by means of the conference. To date, about 80 NGOs, CBOs (community-based organizations), institutes and individuals are members of the Conference; it is hoped that by the end of 1997 this number will reach up to 300. For more information on the desertification e-mail conference, please contact Ms. Penda Marcilly, conference coordinator, at:

The greater challenge is to extend the fruits of electronic communication to grassroots communities which may not themselves have electronic access. In this context NGOs, having access to cyberspace, have a great responsibility. Development of an "electronic-to-print" strategy can play a vital role, as in the following example.

Circular on Desertification

ELCI (Kenya), CODEFF (Comite Nacional pro Defensa de la Fauna y Flora - Chile), ENDA-TM (Senegal) and SCOPE (Pakistan) have been publishing a bi-monthly "Circular on Desertification" as a joint venture. SCOPE is responsible for publishing the Asian section of this circular. In this connection, they have already published five issues. The purpose of the Circular is to highlight the issue of desertification among grassroots groups and NGOs and to make decision-makers and donors aware of the real problems of desertification. [Editor's note: Circulation of the paper version of the Circular on Desertification is limited. Electronic access is normally offered by RIOD, but as of publication of this issue of the Arid Lands Newsletter, RIOD's site is being rebuilt and not all issues of the Circular are available.]

Local Projects

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Desertification in the Malir Valley

Malir (which means "fertile green area" in the Sindhi Language) used to be a satellite town of Karachi. It was famous for providing high-quality fruits, vegetables and fodder to Karachi. Agriculture in Malir depends on irrigation by groundwater, collected from wells. The groundwater aquifer was traditionally recharged by the Malir River and its tributaries, which run only after torrential rainfalls. These river beds, besides channeling rainwater, used to contain large quantities of sand and gravel deposited by the rivers when they flowed. This sand and gravel worked as a percolation medium for the river and rainwater, replenishing the groundwater aquifer through slow recharge.

However, sand and gravel are also important construction materials. For this reason, they have continuously been excavated from the Malir River since the 1940s, and the amounts excavated have increased to an alarming extent during the 1980s and 1990s. When layers of this coarse sand and fine gravel are removed water tends to run off quickly rather than infiltrating and is therefore not able to replenish the aquifer. Consequently, there has been a sharp decline in agricultural activities, creating poverty and unemployment in the area. It is estimated that by the end of 1994 about 157,000 m3 of sand and gravel had been removed. The result of these activities has been a sharp decline in the water table from 15' below land surface (bls) in the 1960s to more than 200' bls in 1990s.

SCOPE has been involved in attempting to reverse this situation since 1990. It has organized a number of advocacy campaigns and has raised public awareness of the problem. Currently SCOPE is working with farmers' organizations to restore Malir's past status by means of such activities as scientific investigation of the issues; preparing an EIA for Mol Dam; public hearings, capacity building of NGOs/CBOs, community awareness campaigns, networking of NGOs, press releases and appeals, convention follow-up, incentives for IPM, and liaison among governments, NGOs, and research institutes.

In the same valley, SCOPE has helped a village community to broaden and deepen a traditional water reservoir. This community, located in the harshly arid environs of Union Council Moedan, in the upper catchment area of the Malir River, depends on this reservoir and on wells for its water. The reservoir stores rainwater captured during the monsoon rains, but the quantity of water captured has not been sufficient to last through the dry season. The wells have thus been a life-line for the village, but the well water turns brackish in summer when the groundwater table falls. SCOPE initially entered the community in 1993 to encourage the establishment of arid land trees and medicinal shrub plantations, but soon water scarcity halted all development work and the community's zest for the project. Then SCOPE's team, under the leadership of Shabbir Khan and Nizam Uddin, organized the community to widen and deepen its reservoir. The project succeeded, as now the reservoir can capture enough rainwater during the monsoon season to last the villagers through the dry season. Droughts are still a potential problem, but the reservoir has also contributed somewhat to groundwater recharge, and well water is no longer brackish in summer.

Apart from this, in the watershed area of Gadap and Memon Goth villages, SCOPE has already introduced a pilot sprinkler irrigation system for water conservation. Now, with the help of a UNDP project assistance grant, SCOPE is going to broaden its operations. The immediate tasks are to 1) launch a high-profile campaign to advocate a complete halt to sand mining from agricultural areas and allocation of this activity to non-agricultural quarry sites. 2) organize farmers to use groundwater sustainably with a participatory groundwater management system 3) Demonstrate the use of drip irrigation and a pre-stressed water channel lining system to conserve limited water. 4) actively follow up on the Mol Dam project, which is meant to provide groundwater recharge in the valley.

Waterlogging and Salinity

SCOPE is also working to combat waterlogging and salinity in the irrigated lands of the Indus Plain, in Sindh and Punjab Provinces where these problems are particularly acute.

Waterlogging is caused by a rising groundwater table in canal-irrigated areas that have clay soil and insufficient drainage facilities. Waterlogging results in salt layers being deposited on the land surface, thus causing soil salinity. The Government of Pakistan, with the help of multilateral donors, has initiated multi-million dollar drainage projects to counteract this, but the problem is extremely difficult to control. Because of waterlogging and salinity, millions of acres of precious land have been converted into salt deserts and lakes. SCOPE has organized NGOs in Sindh province into an "NGO Commission Against Waterlogging and Salinity," an advocacy and lobbying body whose aim is to pressure government for effective control of this large-scale land degradation problem. Several training workshops have been organized and monitoring reports have been published by SCOPE and the NGO Commission.

Natural Resources Management Training

SCOPE has also been active in promoting a Natural Resource Management Training Programme. This project is aimed at providing natural resource management training to about 250 NGOs and CBOs against degradation of the natural resource base in Pakistan. Recently a workshop was organized on Natural Resource Management in Sandy Deserts, with a focus on "Survival Strategy"; NGOs from the Thar, Thal, Cholistan and Kharan Deserts participated. Resource persons from various governmental arid land management institutions also participated. The results were excellent, as communities learnt from each other and a chain reaction of consultation and communication has already started among these NGOs who are determined to apply desert development technologies and strategies in their communities.

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Author Information

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Tanveer Arif, president of SCOPE, can be contacted at:
B-150, 13-D/2, Gulshan-e-Iqbal
Karachi - 75300
Phones: 92-21-4965042, 4976459
Fax: 92-21-4964001

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