Mighty Indus has its delta ripped


Elderly Ramzan still remembers the days when he was a child and almost everyone in his village cultivated the famous ‘red rice’ among other crops. Even the farmers were very rich due to excellent crop productivity and owned several cattle head.
But everything has changed. Most of the residents in the village have migrated to other places.
As the climate change takes its toll on the magnificent Indus delta, apart from losing natural resources – a major source of livelihood for coastal residents – acute shortage of drinking water for human and even the livestock has become a major reason behind migration.
Ramzan informed Pakistan Today that a large number of people from his village, Samoon Jatt, located near Shah Bandar in Thatta district, have shifted to other locations in recent years.
A research study conducted by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) – an organisation working for the benefit of fishermen in Sindh and Balochistan – titled ‘Migration from Indus Delta between April 2000 to April 2010’ states that around 14,400 people, majority of them fishermen, living in 57 coastal villages have migrated to other places in search of better livelihood. These villages were located near rich port towns of the past including Keti Bunder, Shah Bunder and Khharo Chhan in Thatta. Most of the people migrated from Jhib Village, Kodiaryoon, old Takoo village, Kainr, Deh Padwari, Deh Ghoro, Deh Belo, Usman Jatt Village, Samoon Jatt Village, and Wadero Mohammed Jatt village of Shah Bunder.
“Since the delta was destroyed, we lost mangroves from which we took out honey and that were great sources of fodder for our livestock, while rich fertile land was turned barren. Indigenous people switched to other professions like making straw mats; however, shortage of drinking water forced the communities to migrate to other places,” said Haji Adam Ghandhro, a fisherfolk leader in Thatta.
Supposedly the fifth largest delta in the world, where the mighty Indus flows into Arabian Sea was fan-shaped with meandering creaks and muddy channels but with reducing water flow downstream Kotri, environmental degradation, disturbed weather pattern and climate change, it has considerably reduced with the passage of time.
The area was once rich and fertile due to nutritional silt depositions through the river water during river inundation periods. The nutritional silt with freshwater sustained thick mangrove forests, several species of freshwater fish and agriculture that were important livelihood sources for local communities.
But most of the delta creeks are now silted due to reduced water flows. According to independent estimates, around 0.8 million out of the total 2.7 million coastal population have migrated due to the loss of resources.
“Our forefathers used to collect honey and other products from mangrove forests. There were several species of wildlife and fishermen landed a lot of fish,” recalls Ramzan, adding that all has now disappeared into thin air.
These forests in the past were very thick and extensive and a source of coal, timber, gum, honey and fish that were even exported to the Middle Eastern countries as well as to some cities in India.
The famous Palla (Hilsa), Indus baril, Indus garua (catfish), giant snakehead, golden mahaseer and the Rita catfish were abundant in the region. Huge areas were cultivated where crops of red rice, sugarcane, bananas and even vegetables were grown. The Indus delta was also extremely rich with biodiversity and a habitat to large number of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and other wildlife.
However, sea intrusion has inundated more than 2.2 million acres of fertile farmlands of Thatta and Badin districts in recent decades. Despite the continuing disastrous situation, the government has taken no notice and even not ensured enough water downstream Kotri for the survival of the magnificent delta, which is also a Ramsar site.
Biodiversity experts and environmentalists demand that the government takes appropriate steps on immediate basis to protect this wonderful natural heritage.