River Swat has the biggest role in the culturally rich past and present of the valley. Historians in the time Alexander the Great, identified Swat with Swat River in which was known as “Swastu”. The economic importance of River Swat for the people living on its banks or along its tributaries can never be under estimated. Furthermore, apart from providing irrigation water for the fertile fields of Swat, it is also the source of irrigation for Malakand Agency, Swabi, Mardan and most of the Charsadda through Upper and Lower Swat canals. The River Swat water is also used for drinking industrial use and electricity production. The ecosystem supports 13 species of fish, reflecting its faunal diversity. This fresh water ecosystem provides hosting grounds to a number of rare indigenous and migratory birds species. Above all, a large number of tourists are attracted to the valley mainly because of the aesthetic value of this River.
River Swat faces a number of threats, both directly and indirectly in the form of pollution, deforestation, unplanned buildings and encroachments, lack of proper sanitation system for most of the hotels and residential areas all along the River and illegal games like fishing and shooting. The degradation of River Swat not only affects the aquatic but also the tourism industry and thus the people dependent of the River economically.
EPS started highlighting the issue of saying the River since its inception through the press, different awareness raising programs and other means within its compass. The concerned government departments and other stakeholders were mobilized to a greater extent. The lack of scientific data was the main shortcoming with EPS to convince the governments and the donors about the nature of the threats River Swat was facing. The intense awareness activities on behalf of EPS resulted in the formation of River Swat Protection Cell (RSPC) in 1997. RSPC was composed of relevant government department and other stakeholders like hotel owners, transport association, CBOs and press with the Commissioner Malakand Division in the Chait and EPS as the Coordinator. The Cell was very successful in combating most of the threats of the River.
In 1997 a concept paper was submitted to the UNDP Pakistan aiming at initiating a project to make the Cell more effective and to address the identified issues. The River Swat Conservation Project started in 1998. The activities undertaken by the project included awareness and social mobilization, scientific data collection and developing coordination among the stakeholders. Workshops and seminars were held throughout the project life and consultant frequently sought from experts which greatly helped in the successful conclusion of the project. Innovative methodologies were adopted particularly in social mobilization and social organization taking the local socio-cultural dynamics in consideration. In addition to the CBOs, Umbrella organizations were formed at Tehsil level for collective actions.
A Pollution Survey of River Swat was conducted in 1999, which was the first comprehensive survey of its kind. The survey was repeated next year, to reconfirm the previous results and seasonal variation. The results show that almost all critical water quality parameters are at various degrees of pollution. The organic pollution parameter is a serious issue and needs immediate attention.
An Ecological Study of River Swat was also conducted in 1999, compiling almost all the available information about the River including topography, climate, ecology and the distribution of important animal and plant species in the valley.
The Hotel Information Survey was conducted in the Kalam, Bahrain, Madyan and Mingora to find problems associated with the mushroom growth of Hotels in the tourist spots. A separate survey was conducted in Mingora to know the number of houses flushing the toilet wastes directly into the drains. The results were quite discouraging and warrant immediate attention.
Awareness raising seminars, workshops, roundtables, essay/debates competition, cleanup activities and walks were organized at different occasions highlighting issues of River Swat. Video film, both at the beginning and at the end of the project was produced. Education material was prepared and distributed on various occasions. Signboards highlighting important issues were erected along the riverbanks. Nature Clubs were formed in boys and girls schools.
Land Use Planning and Zoning started in Kalam on pilot basis could not be concluded because of financial constraints and lack of relevant legislation.
The project was successful in initiating processes, some of which will continue on their own, while others will require active support behalf of people and the government for their continuation.
This exercise performed by the River Swat Protection Cell (RSPC) under EPS platform is a good example as to how the community can be involved in identification of issues of their interest; how stakeholders and government departments should be drawn in the made part of the concerted actions to address an issue in the best interest of the people.