Pakistan is among the countries that has been worst hit by climate change taking place on the planet. It is extremely vulnerable and least prepared to the change. Climate change is not a priority for government. The ministry of climate change, which had only existed since April 2012 was downgraded to a division. The Climate Change Division is part of the Federal Cabinet Secretariat. Last year the funds were slashed. The level of awareness is very low while the capacity to respond to climate change impacts remains very little.

 

Sughran is eight years old and like all children loves to play. But she has no dolls or toys to play. The children of Siddique Dablo village in Hajamro Creek at Keti Bunder have developed their own games and their favourite sport is swimming in the murky waters of the creek. Sughran like other children also knows how to keep afloat in the not so deep waters of the creek’s offlet water course. She has no school to go to and has never seen books. Her mother tells her bedtime stories and she sleeps dreaming of waves and sea.

The scribe met Sughran some days ago during a visit to Siddique Dablo village. The story of Sughran is the same as that of children of her village and the many other villages in the creeks that are part of the Indus River’s large delta land. The scribe along with some other journalists went downcountry to meet the fishermen communities in Keti Bunder for climate change sensitization. The field survey was organised by WWF Pakistan through its ‘Building Capacity on Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal Areas of Pakistan (CCAP)’ project.

Our journey began from Karachi in vans to Dhero where WWF has an office. After a brief stay we headed to Keti Bander. The Dhero town itself was a strange experience. Talking to men in the main bazar it came as a shock to know that almost the entire male population of the area was addicted to eating gutka (tobacco, crushed betel nut, parafin, slaked lime with sweet flavouring). It is highly addictive and many people have died due to cancer. The Sindh government should probe the issue and ban the highly addictive gutka. The journey itself raised a lot of eye brows as whole area we passed through was underdeveloped and the roads were bumpy. Though it was afternoon Keti Bunder itself gave the look of a ghost town. Near the jetty was a play area that had been inaugurated in 2007. There was nothing in the deserted play area – no joy rides, swings or anything of the sort. I believe the children avoided even coming near it due to the foul smell of the overflowing open sewer drain.

The journey in a fishing boat was interesting as none of the villages in the creeks, I heard, had jetties for the boats to land. So landing and getting off from the creek land is adventurous and quite risky. On our way back, thanks to the fishermen’s great efforts, the boat was able to take off for the journey back. At last we were on the land of mangroves. The mud was slippery but it was an exciting new experience as soon we came across the small crabs (not more than one and a half inch in size. They live in holes and come out almost every one minute perhaps for fresh air. They are not harmful and they do not attack the people passing. Since we were all bare foot many I feared may have been crushed under our feet. But the Site coordinator Tahir Abbasi assured me that they do not get killed so easily.

Abbasi gave us a briefing about the climate change and other related issues in coastal areas of Pakistan including sea intrusion, poverty, lack of health facilities and poor hygienic conditions. Abbasi’s briefing also highlighted the need for ecosystem management. “In the context of rise of sea level it is not so alarming. It is just 1.1 millimetre. The main issue is sea intrusion. The Indus River water flowing into the sea and coming in delta has decreased over the years.

“Impact of sea intrusion can bee seen 100 kilometres from coast to inland, which is a matter of concern. We have interviewed the elders and they say that they have shifted their houses at least 200 metres inland. According to a survey, over 500,000 acres of land has already been engulfed by the sea. If a fresh survey is conducted I believe the figure could be as high as 700,000.

“Under CCAP we are working in 55 villages. 30 villages are in Kharo Chan area while 25 are in Keti Bunder. We are teaching the creek communities simple adaptation techniques. We are explaining the risks and hazards due to climate change and global warming. We are explaining to them that mangroves plantation is their line of defence and you can see they have planted mangroves around their houses. It is Avicena marina species of mangroves. Mangroves are shrimps and crabs breeding grounds. Coastal land erosion’s simple solution is mangroves and other plants plantation.

“We have tried to provide simple solutions to their problems. Their homes were often flooded at high tides. Simple solution was elevated platforms for houses. Four feet elevation was good enough to escape tides. So far we have made 20 elevated houses for them.

“This is a marginalised community and problems include less fish catch. We have ensured alternative livelihood sources for them. We have made crab fattening ponds for them. These juvenille crabs are reared in three months time and sold for Rs 300 to Rs 500. Besides that they now also breed ducks and chicken,” Abbasi said.

On a query about fishing in breeding season, he said the community was aware about the phenamenon. “Fishing takes place even in months of June and July, which is breeding season. There is no government enforcement of law that also does not exist now,” Abbasi said.

WWF and some other organisations have provided solar panels to the creek communities. Some of them are not functional. “There are some maintenance problems and replacement of energy saver bulbs,” he said.

“A major problem in all the villages is the availability of clean drinking water. We tried to install hand pumps but the water is saline. The water has to be brought from Keti Bunder in fishing boats. We have identified four villages where underground water is not saline. We intend to build water reservoirs in these villages,” Abbasi said.

He said they also want to start two schools in two villages. “We are looking for some literary person in the creek communities who could teach children. But it is difficult to find such a person. Nobody from outside is willing to come and live here to teach children,” Abbasi said.  

After the briefing, the journalists met the fishermen and their families. There are only 35 households left since majority of the community members have migrated to other areas for safety and livelihood. Ayesha is mother of three children and of about 35 years of age. She said all her children were vaccinated and had been given polio drops. “For medical treatment we go to Keti Bunder. My children were also born in Keti Bunder. We are all afraid to travel in a bus or car but we are comfortable travelling in a boat. We are all good swimmers and love sea,” Ayesha proudly said. She was born in Siddique Dablo village and her ancestors have also been living there for generations as far as her memory and that of her elders could tell. 

Ahmed is a fisherman who lives with his family in the village. He earns around Rs 8,000 monthly and is satisfied with the income. “I would never leave my village where I was born. My elder son is a young man. He can decide for himself about his future,” he said. Ahmed said that they all pool their resources and sometimes sacrifice a camel on Eidul Azha but they do not do that every year.

At the end of the tour, journalists planted some mangroves. It is pertinent to mention here that a lot of mangroves have been cut in creek areas as they serve as favourite feed for camels. The administration can take steps to end this practice so as to ensure end to coastal soil erosion.

Life of the people living in creeks is very simple. They rarely eat vegetables, beef, mutton or pulses. They eat shrimps, fish and brown rice. They do not eat wheat. Since they eat what is readily available around they are able to survive despite being so poor. The life as we know in the metropolitan cities cannot even be imagined by the village people. The information technology age has not reached these remote areas of Pakistan.      

Strong policy making is required to mitigate climate change impacts in coastal areas of Pakistan. It is essential to ensure good life for creek communities and for the biodiversity of the area.