By Dr.Abdul Razak Shaikh,

The protesters took one week, to walk 150 kilometers from their homes in the coastal area of Kharo Chan to the city of Thatta, in the Sindh province. Around them, the temperatures rose as high as 46 degrees Celsius. Yet, they remained undeterred. On reaching Thatta, the men shouted, “Karbala, Karbala” to bring attention to the water emergency in their areas.

The 1,000 or so protesters did not make the headlines. Even the few media outlets which picked up the news got caught up in the maelstrom of daily political headlines and pushed it further down the bulletin.

Since January, there have been three long marches within the delta regions of Sindh, all desperately seeking the state’s attention to the water shortage and land erosion in their villages.

According to 1991, Indus Water Accord signed between all four provinces of Pakistan, the government is supposed to release at least 10 Million Acre Feet (MAF) every year downstream to the Kotri dam in Sindh. But the agreement is usually violated and the water is only released during the rainy season. For the rest of the year, hardly any fresh water is allowed to flow into the delta. For the three million people of the delta, living in areas including Thatta, Badin, and Sujawal, there is no fresh water for their homes or their agriculture land. The district Thatta is mainly an agricultural area. The riverine and deltaic tracts of the delta once formed part of rich agriculture land. Irrigation water was readily available from the river. Now freshwater has ceased to flow in the delta channels, except in the few weeks of the monsoon season.

Separately, the Arabian Sea, into which the Indus River flows, is swelling and rising due to climate change and turning once-fertile stretches of land into a wasteland.

Pakistan’s coastline, bordering the Arabian Sea, is 1,050 kilometers long. Of which 350 kilometers fall within Sindh and 700 kilometers in Baluchistan. The Indus River, Pakistan’s longest river, is fed by the glacial in the Himalayan mountain range. The water enters the delta and its 17 creeks or tributaries in Sindh before heading towards the sea. Out of 17 creeks, 15 of the waterways lie in the Thatta, Sujawal and Badin districts. Two are located within Karachi.

There were forests, creeks, and mudflats, many of which now no longer exist except perhaps in memory. The area was once home to 97 percent of Pakistan’s mangrove forests, an essential habitat and breeding ground for fish, shrimp and crabs and a natural shield against cyclones and tsunamis. But over the years, this crucial resource has dwindled just as the flow of the river has dwindled, and just between 1966 and 2003 we lost 86 percent of the mangrove cover.

The further upcountry you travel, the more often you hear the refrain that Sindh ‘wastes’ the water of the river Indus by letting it flow into the sea. It is a view born largely of ignorance with a dash of parochialism, a patronizing statement made by those who willfully choose to remain blissful in their ignorance. If only that ignorance didn’t have such disastrous consequences. Because when freshwater no longer flows into the sea, the sea flows onto the land, eroding it and gradually inundating it; as far back as 2001, the Sindh government declared that over 1.2m acres of land in Badin and Thatta had been claimed by the sea and one can imagine what the position must be now.

The lack of river water has put the local population in danger. This is adversely impacting the livelihood and health of the villagers and the aquatic life and biodiversity of the area.”

As many as 150 water canals are being denied water. They don’t even have clean drinking water for these days. How do we survive?”

Majority of those who live along the Indus delta are fishermen. The river’s decline has shattered their means to earn a living. In the last few years, many families have been forced to leave their homes and move to Karachi.

The situation has become so critical that since 2012, every year the coastal inhabitants have been arranging marches to the capital of the Sindh province. In 2015, a rally, with similar demands, had participants from nine districts of Sindh including Thatta, Sujawal, Badin, Tharparkar, Umerkot, Sanghar, Nawabshah and Hyderabad.

What should we blame? Certainly, the diversion of waters from the Indus into various canals has helped irrigate large tracts but with little concern about the costs to the delta. Certainly, there is a case to be made that dams are needed, but where is the realization that the root of our water woes is largely management and supply? The 1991 Water Accord prescribed that at least 10 MAF of water must be allowed to flow below the Kotri barrage to keep the fragile delta alive, but this has rarely actually happened.

It’s going to get worse. As the effects of the climate crisis unfold and the ice sheets continue to melt at unprecedented rates, sea levels as a whole will rise, adding a global dimension to this crisis. Here in Pakistan along with human and economic suffering, we will see waves of climate-caused internal migration, adding to our miseries. Meanwhile, the marchers camp out in Thatta warning us of what is to come, and no one is listening.


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