Rehri Goth, a 400-500 years old settlement on the coastal belt of Sindh, was once a serene locality for its inhabitants, who are largely associated with fishing to earn their livelihood. Despite its existence for such a long time, the goth or village, remained deprived of basic facilities.
The residents lacked necessities like education, health, sanitation, clean drinking water etc. But they still had the sea, their source of living. Their livelihoods were not at stake.
The fishermen of the goth could go to the sea wherever they wanted to fish. They used to catch fish in huge quantity and sell it for earning their income. Those “good old days” are now a dream for the residents of Rehri Goth, who are now fighting for their economic survival.
Their troubles began when industries started mushrooming in the area around Rehri Goth some two to three decades ago. According to the planners, the establishment of industries in the Port Qasim area was to bring prosperity and plenty of economic activities for the region. But this growth brought miseries to the residents of Rehri Goth, who relied on the sea as their economic mainstay.
Industrialisation brought the usual issues of pollution – land, air, and marine for the locals. And though the local inhabitants managed to survive air and land pollution for a long time, marine pollution made them cry out in agony as it took a huge toll on their livelihoods.
Industries continued to mint millions from their established units, but never cared about the industrial waste, which found its way into the sea. Untreated industrial waste from industries has turned the blue waters of the Arabian Sea into dirty blackish water in a span of few years.
Fishermen of Rehri Goth now have to navigate through the dirty and polluted marine waters to go towards deep sea for fishing. As if having their livelihood at risk was not enough, the accumulation of solid and industrial waste in the Rehri Goth neighbourhood, has added on to the woes of the locals. This environmental degradation caused by the industries is also taking a toll on the health of the residents.
However, instead of the issues getting resolved, the ordeal of Rehri Goth continued with each new development adding more salt to their wounds.
Pakistan has been facing a shortage of gas following depletion of indigenous gas reserves. Past governments allowed the import of gas and for it dedicated LNG terminals were set up in the Port Qasim area.
Two of these terminals are already functioning, while one more is currently under development. These LNG terminals are necessary to meet the domestic demand for gas in the country; however, it has pushed the residents of Rehri Goth to the wall by restricting their movements.
Movements of locals in the area surrounding the terminals has been restricted. They are forced to take a longer route to go to the sea because of security concerns related to the terminals.
Another aspect that hurts the local communities in the vicinity is the damage inflicted on the mangroves, which are a breeding ground for shrimp, an important economic mainstay for small fishermen.
Residents of Rehri Goth are dejected by the conditions around them. Fears of more damages to their livelihoods run high in the community. They have faced excessive marine pollution, fast depleting fish stock, restrictions on their movements, as well as disappearing mangroves in a short span of two and a half decades.
Abu Bakar, who is in his sixties and sports a long-grey beard, recalls the “good old days” when the sea near the village had plenty of fish stock. “We could go anywhere in the sea, along our coast. There were no restrictions on how we moved in the area,” he shared.
Abu Bakar witnessed industrialisation of the surrounding area of his village, and later also the establishment of the LNG terminals. “Times have changed,” he said sadly, lamenting the restrictions put on the fishing community by the government.
“We are now restricted to the creeks,” Abu Bakar informed, adding that the distance for them has increased manifold because of the diversions created for the security of the LNG terminals that fall within close proximity of Rehri Goth.
The long travel distance has also added to the cost of fuel for the fishermen.
He recalls the days when there was an abundance of fish stock in the sea and they did not have to spend a lot to catch fish; “the expenses were low”.
Now, the catch has declined drastically and on the other hand, fishing expenses have climbed up manifold, especially the price of fuel along with a few other things that are necessities for fishing.
Fishermen Mustafa also complains about the hardships that came for the local fishermen community after industrialisation and other economic ventures found their way into the area. He expressed particularly concern about the fast depleting mangroves from this stretch of the coastal belt that touches Rehri Goth.
Mustafa said that the locals have brought the issues into the notice of their elected representatives, and urged them to take it up with the authorities concerned; however, no progress has been made to facilitate the fishermen, who were dependent on the sea for their livelihood.
The dusty streets and narrow lanes of Rehri Goth tell the state of civic conditions in the area, where health and clean drinking water facilities are scarce. The pale faces of residents also speak about the hard times they have to live through in this locality, which was settled by their ancestors centuries back with the dream of a “better and bright future” for their generations.
Rehri Goth now lies at the crossroad of expanding industrialisation and consequent decline in traditional livelihood opportunities. The residents do not oppose industrialisation, but they also want that the government protects their livelihoods from getting destroyed by irresponsible industries.
After witnessing the clean blue waters of the sea turn murky over time, with dead fish floating amidst solid waste, the residents demand for the protection of their right to live and feed their children.
The writer is a staff member