Keti Bunder: City under threat
In historical writings, Thatta has been described as a prosperous city which was the capital of Sindh between the 13th to 16th centuries — a city brimming with trade and economic activities until the Mughals arrived.
“Ships from different countries would arrive and anchor here and goods would find their way to the other cities of Sindh,” recalls Mubarak Ali, the historian. “In the 16th century, Thatta was attacked by the Portuguese who slaughtered people and set the city on fire. Later came the Dutch, French and British,” he adds.
Presently Keti Bunder, the coastal part of Thatta district is in the limelight as the government plans to set up an economic zone modelled on the Chinese city of Shenzhen. However, the residents of the coastal strip encounter a host of issues, poverty being the major one.
Located near Keenjhar lake, Keti Bunder faces severe sea intrusion and the availability of drinking water is rare. People appear hapless with poverty written large on their faces while the city looks like it has met with a calamity. Civic infrastructure is broken, education and health are non-existent and every second person you come across complains of the non-availability of drinking water, “People would not be thinking of migrating to other cities, if drinking water was available. Fishermen are not worried on the livelihood front but they spend a lot of money on buying drinking water which is impure,” says Mohammad Ali Shah, who heads the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), an NGO.
Shah believes the coastal crisis stems from a larger problem which is the obstruction of water flow in the river Indus and its diversion over the last few decades. “That is why we talk about ‘unshackling’ river Indus and have launched the ‘keep river free’ movement,” he says.
Khariyon, a village of Hajamro creek is fast disappearing because of sea intrusion. It is a part of the Indus Delta, which has 17 creeks that were once fed by the Indus. Stakeholders say it is a dying delta as it doesn’t get adequate water flow downstream Kotri barrage due to cuts over Indus and flow diversion by upstream users. There are political reasons as well.
Sea intrusion has gulped a large area of fertile agricultural land. Though fresh statistics are not available but 1.2 million acres of land has been devoured so far by the sea in the coastal areas of Thatta and Badin. Constant sea intrusion has already deprived the coastline of its mangroves cover.
Tahir Abbasi from WWF points out that previously mangroves existed on 260,000 hectares of the Keti Bunder coastal front, providing a defense shield against cyclones, storms and floods. According to a 2005 study by the WWF, mangroves occupied 86,000 hectares until the 70s. “The Sindh Forest Department however claims that there has been fresh mangrove plantation so the figures have been revised to 107,000 hectares as per 2011 estimates,” he says. “The community will be involved in disaster management techniques initially at village level and subsequently the district and provincial authorities will help make a policy decision”, he says.
WWF is working on implementation of its Climate Change Adaptation Project under which the coastal population is involved in mangroves reforestation.
Out of 1.2 million acres of coastal land in Thatta and Badin districts, around 350,000 acres of the Kotri barrage command area has been lost to continuous sea intrusion — a direct loss of productivity and livelihood resources for communities. According to a recent claim made by Taj Hyder, who heads a Sindh government committee for the establishment of Zulfikarabad, 18 acres of the coastal belt in Thatta and Badin are being devoured by the sea daily and if it is not stopped, Thatta will disappear by 2025.
“We take meals twice a day, one of which is just rice,” says Babu Dablo, a resident of Kariyon village, wearing tattered clothes. “I lost my home and boat during the cyclone that hit us in the past.”
Although PFF has provided a wireless system to its office-bearers working on the coast, the area still doesn’t have an early warning system to keep people away from going into deep seas if there is a cyclone forecast. “The sky colour and wind direction warns us of rough weather,” remarks Soomar Dablo, as he looks up to the sky. His children don’t go to school. “What is the purpose of sending them to school? He is going to do exactly what I do when he grows up,” he adds.
For Gulab Shah, Keti Bunder used to be a city but is now just a town of 350 or so households. “We have schools without teachers and hospitals without doctors.”