Coastal flooding has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of thousands, leaving them displaced and despairing
he global climate change crisis has been a cause of concern for some time now. Extreme and unexpected weather changes continue to disrupt lives everywhere. Changing weather patterns have deeply affected many coastal communities. Most recently, the Haji Muhmmad Sadique Faqeerani Jat village, in Keti Bander, Thatta, comprising some 600 households has been affected by seawater intrusion and tidal inundation.
“The sea was once a blessing for coastal communities, particularly the fisherfolk. It has now turned into a challenge,” says Natho Jat, a resident of one of the hundred-and-fifty villages along the coastline. In the past couple of weeks, many wooden houses in the area have been submerged by tidal flooding. Several villages including Haji Qasim Mir Jat, Haji Mir Jat, Esa Kangarro, Muhmmad Ali Sholani, Suleman Sholani, Muhmmad Hassan Machhi, Muhmmad Jat, Haji Abu Jat in Keti Bunder, Ghorra Bari and Kharochan have been affected by flooding caused by tidal changes. In the past couple of weeks, several wooden houses in the area have been submerged.
For the fishing community, tidal flooding is not a seasonal nuisance. It is a constant reality. Climate change disasters have destroyed these people’s lives and made them more vulnerable.
The villages situated in the disaster zone have 17 creeks. Many families have been living on various islands and small villages near the coastline for centuries.
Nadeem Mirbahar, an ecologist, working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Commission on Ecosystem Management, says, “sea erosion takes place due to sea intrusion. Sea levels are rising because of climate change and glaciers melting.” He adds, “in the absence of abundant river water flow and silt load land formation and mud formation processes have stopped. Resultantly, the sea has started intruding on the land. Wave action has been continuously eroding land.”
According to Mirbahar, “Indus Delta landscapes are gradually changing and going under sea. Ecosystems are badly affected. Fish found in mixed coastal waters is no longer abundant and the mangroves are under stress. With the disappearance of mud flats, we are losing mangroves as well. Poverty in these coastal areas is rising.”
The Sindh coastal territory is tracked down between the Indian border along Sir Creek. The Indus River delta is the fifth largest in the world. It is now being eroded by the sea in Thatta, Sajawal and Badin districts. “Every day the sword of calamity is hanging over us, every day we face sea intrusion due to climate change,” says another resident of Keti Bander.
This was once a great harbour on the Arabian Sea. It is about 102 kilometres from the Makli Hill in Thatta, the largest historical funerary site in the world.
Natho Jat is not the only one upset by the change. Thousands are suffering, as there is little hope. Many are already homeless.
According to the Index For Risk Management (INFORM) 2018, Pakistan’s risk rating stands at 6.4 out of 10. The country continues to suffer from natural and human-induced hazards that threaten to affect the lives and livelihoods of its citizens. Residents say 3.5 to 4.5 million acres of fertile land in the Indus delta has been affected by flash floods and sea intrusion. They estimate that about 100 acres of delta land is being lost daily to seawater intrusion.
“These days the tides are very high. June and July are the peak months for the Arabian Sea tide. Coastal and marine environments have been disturbed by changing weather patterns. About 95 percent of the population has departed to safer areas,” says Ali Raza Wanjaro, a social activist based in Kharo Chhan. “Earlier, this region had abundant agricultural activity. Slowly crop production has declined to zero,” he adds.
Wanjaro complains that only Edhi volunteers tried rescuing the trapped people. Others, he says, have left the people at Nature’s mercy. He adds that the provincial and national disaster management authorities have not taken prompt notice of the increasingly worsening situation or provided immediate relief. He says there is a massive shortage of clean drinking water, food and medicines for affected communities.
According to the Index For Risk Management (INFORM) 2018, Pakistan’s risk rating stands at 6.4 out of 10. The country continues to suffer from natural and human-induced hazards that threaten to affect the lives and livelihoods of its citizens. Residents say 3.5 to 4.5 million acres of the fertile land in the Indus delta had been affected by flash floods and intrusion. They estimate that about 100 acres of delta land is being lost daily to seawater intrusion.
Mirbahar says, “the absence of Indus River flows and mangrove degradation are the major factors behind the economic and ecological downfall.” The ecologist adds,” the Sindh government has been trying to restore mangrove territories in coastal areas, but in the absence of freshwater flows in the Indus, the ecosystem restoration projects are being affected.” He says, “a large agriculturally rich area has been encroached by the sea.”
The sea is a primary source of livelihood for many. Natural water resources and fishing form a major chunk of the country’s economy. Coastal communities’ culture and lifestyle have revolved and evolved around the sea. However, rampant tidal changes are altering the bond. The floods have made villagers shift to fishing boats and launches. A few are fighting for survival on the mangrove trees. Pakistan has the seventh largest mangrove forest system in the world. Mangroves are the frontline guardians - they break sea tides. “In the past, there were dense mangrove forests, but now these are at risk, too,” says Wanjaro. He says, “mangrove wood is used for commercial purposes. There were a few small defence lines (zameendari bund) for protection that have been damaged by high tides.
A few years ago, Allah Dano Mallah, settled on the outskirts of Thatta after a long battle against climate change. His family is part of the migrant coastal community. He has adopted a new livelihood. “I own a donkey cart, which is used to carry goods from one place to another in the city area,” he says. “I earn a thousand rupees daily. Although it is not a great sum, it feeds my family and keeps me motivated to do better.” He adds that “there are better facilities in the city, including drinking water, schools and a civil hospital.”
Climate change, global warming, and dry weather patterns are not favouring the fisher folk. These communities continue to face new problems and with their livelihoods at risk are living in a state of constant fear.
The writer is aHyderabad-based environmental journalist