Fishing communities migrate from Indus delta amid water shortage, declining fish catch

Karachi: In less than two months period, mass migration has been witnessed from the neglected Indus Deltaic region lying in Thatta District due to acute shortage of drinking water, declining fish catch and threat of sea erosion.

After 23 families, all the residents of a remote Mahmood Jat village, who left their ancestral abodes in March 2010, now some 36 more families from three other villages have left their localities last week. Ayoub, a local activist of coastal town Khharo Chhan, says water has become a costly commodity for these people. Majority of fisher families can not afford to buy even a small water container for their domestic use.

Poverty and joblessness has hit the community hard, which have found migration as the only way out for their survival. A survey conducted by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) about the migration in the last 10 years, from April 2000 to April 2010, showed that 14,400 people from 57 coastal villages have migrated to greener pastures in search of better living. These people mostly belonged to neighboring coastal villages of once rich port towns of Keti Bunder, Shah Bunder and Khharo Chhan.

According to the figure issued by the PFF, old Takoo village comprising 300 families, Jhib Village comprising 150 families, Kainr village 70 families, Kodiaryoon Village 60 families, Deh Padwari 20 families, 3360 people from seven villages of Deh Ghoro and 2000 people from four villages of Deh Belo have migrated. Recently migrated 36 families belong to Usman Jatt Village, Samoon Jatt Village, and Wadero Mohammed Jatt village of Shah Bunder.

Those migrating to the areas other than fishing grounds are facing difficulties because they have only traditional skill of fishing. Cultivation and working on daily wages is difficult job for many of them.

Gulab Shah, activist from Keti Bunder, said after migration only males can work in the agriculture fields while there is no role of fisher-women who have the skills to help their males in fishing-related work but nothing else otherwise.

When asked about mat making and selling vegetation for traditional hut construction, Shah said since there is no vegetation along the coastal areas and fresh water ponds anymore, the people have lost this source of earning as well and are facing difficulties.

Indus Delta covers parts of three districts, Thatta, Badin and Karachi. At least 0.7 million people out of total 2.7 million total population have migrated after building of the mega water projects on the River Indus. Due to scarcity of rainfall and receding river Indus water from downstream Kotri, the trend of migration has increased among the deltaic communities.

The mass migration started in the year 1955 when Kotri Barrage was opened for cultivation of five million acres land, depriving the water share of deltaic communities.

PFF Chairperson Muhammad Ali Shah said only the people migrating from their ancestral villages can understand the pain of migration. Because, he said, the government functionaries have nothing to give to these people and save their life and livelihood.

He said these people should be involved in policy making by the government and their knowledge can be utilized to ensure provision of fresh water for their domestic use.

PFF spokesman Sami Memon has strongly opposed the demand made by some water advocacy groups to release 10 million acre feet (maf) water downstream Kotri to save life, flora and fauna, in Indus Delta. He said at least 35maf water is needed to save the life in delta.

About the author

Saleem Shaikh

The writer is a development journalist. He writes on water, sanitation, environment, climate change, agriculture, women development, human rights, education, health, development budgets and economy.

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