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May 8, 2021

Storage of Indus upstream damning for coastal herders

HYDERABAD: Flowering mangroves during the months of May and June attract a poisonous fly that is a nuisance for the local camel population that grazes in the forest along the coast.

To avoid the situation, camel herders take their animals back home, as at times even strong animals cannot survive the sting of the fly and die instantly due to the toxins.

On the other hand, the locals also like the flowering mangroves due to the fragrance. These flowers are used as a natural perfume by the community.

When mature, these mangroves bear a fruit called Qum. Taste of the fruit depends on how much freshwater was absorbed by the trees. People cannot consume this fruit in any other season other than when there freshwater or rains are available to the trees.

“We do not know the nutritional and medicinal value of this fruit, but we take it for a change in taste. It is delicious,” said Tajan Faqeerani Jatt, a camel herder residing near Keti Bunder area of Thatta district.

The coastal communities have old traditions coming through generations to move their camels to the mangroves forests for 10 months, except May and June (when poisonous flies cause disturbance.)

It is a routine practice that herders take water to their animals on boats and after coming back they bring milk with fish catch on the same boats.

Jatt expresses fear due to rapid changes taking around, saying they may lose the traditional assets (camels) from the coast sooner or later.

“Camels mostly inhabiting Keti Bunder may be eliminated, because of shrinking water and fodder resources,” he said, while talking to The News.

He said there were 280 families belonging to the Faqeerani tribe in the coastal areas, who traditionally used to have larger herds of camels around 30 years back.

Each family used to have around 200-300 camels at their makeshift farms, mostly grazing in mangroves forests the whole year. But now the animals’ population has shrunk alarmingly due to many reasons, mainly unavailability of freshwater and fodder in the natural habitats.

The situation can be measured from the fact that those herders, who used to have around 100 camels in their families, now do not have a single animal.

Maintaining camels is difficult for the herders because of depleting fodder and water resources. Only a few households have a small number of animals, because they can afford to keep the tradition alive. “Otherwise, all families cannot afford to keep camels,” he added.

There are two main breeds of camels in coastal areas known as Kharai and Sakrani. Their characteristics are similar. The community does not use these animals for riding or pulling carts, rather they just use the camels’ nutritious milk, which has medicinal elements to treat many diseases.

There is a tradition that these herders in coastal areas do not sell milk. They give it free of cost to needy people, who come frequently to heal their ailments.

Recalling the past, herders said camel (wool) hairs used to have a market nearby for knitting yarns, blankets and other products locally.

Abdul Ghani Katiar, farmer-turn fisherman said the River Indus, travelling from a long distance fed the sea through 17 creeks, which have formed a 200km delta. “There are mangroves at different islands, which not only are breeding grounds of commercial fish species but also provide oxygen to humans and maintain ecosystems.”

Mangroves have also been providing fodder for camels and other livestock herders through generations.

Katiar was aware that mangroves worked as natural shields for the coastal communities in case of sea storms and other calamities. But to maintain this shield, freshwater either from the river or monsoon rains, was must.

“We want fresh water to grow crops for having food stock and grasses for animals as well,” he added.

Community people know the importance of mangroves, and said that when the entire country faces heat waves during summer and temperatures touch 45-50 Celsius or more, coastal people in Thatta and Sujawal districts do not feel the heat because temperature remains normal, not more than 30 Celsius. In case of rise in temperature, it does not exceed 35 C because of mangroves, which consume carbon dioxide and control the environment.

The natural flow of the Indus always pushes the seawater back with silt, which forms islands and maintains soil fertility. But with a stop in river flow, freshwater shortage destroyed mangroves and reduced soil fertility, negatively impacting cultivation as well as the overall ecosystem.

Responding to a query, the community people said they use mangrove leaves as fodder for animals because they do not have alternatives. They used to cultivate crops and maintain grazing fields, which have depleted due to sea intrusion. Almost all animals including camels, buffalos, cows, goats and sheep consume this grass fondly.

Animal grazing in mangroves could be avoided if there were alternatives such as grass fodder in the region.

Residents of the area have a traditional water storage system, which allows them to store the essential resource during the three-four months of flooding in the river or monsoon season. For the rest of the year, they have to bear the cost of drinking water, which takes up a chunk of their earnings.

Drinking water is bought from different jetties and towns.

Thirty years ago, these coastal communities received plenty of water throughout the year from the Indus as well as monsoon rains.

After the building of dams and diversions on the Indus River, they started experienced many changes. When farmers witnessed change in land fertility and water scarcity, and could not cultivate crops, they shifted hands to alternative livelihoods. Farmers and herders joined fishing as an alternative for survival.

Presently some farmers and herder families have their own fishing boats and workforce, because they have lost their lands due to sea intrusion.