Pakistan’s disappearing delta areas


By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Keti Bandar, southern Pakistan

 

Keti Bandar was once a thriving river port in the Indus river delta region in southern Pakistan, with impressive public buildings, a customs office and warehouses for exports. Today, it can barely stay above water.

Sea waves lash against its protective embankments on three sides, leaving only a thin, 2km long isthmus by way of a land bridge to the mainland.

And the water levels keep rising.

Two years ago, the high tide barely came up to the ruins of a rice mill located just outside the town. Now that has been completely submerged.

Before

Before

After

After

Crumbling pillars

“The tide will ebb, but it will come back with greater force. Two more years, and the whole town will be under water,” said Bachal Khanejo, a local boatman.

 

While there is still time to save Keti, the town of Kharo Chhan, about 20 minutes drive east, has reached the point of no return.

“In 1946, it was a part of the mainland,” says Abdullah Murgher, a local farmer. It is now an island, about 30 minutes’ boat ride from the shore.

The signs of a prosperous past are still visible, such as the crumbling pillars of a vast villa that belonged to a Hindu village head.

But all that remains on the island today are a few hundred fishermen’s huts, made of straw-mat walls and thatched roofs.

Both Keti and Kharo Chhan have been important towns on one of the world’s nine largest delta regions.

Over the millennia, the Indus river cut some 17 major and numerous minor creeks in the region as it disgorged into the Arabian Sea in the south.

Delta degradation

The soft mud plates between the creeks, enriched by hundreds of millions of metric tones of silt load carried down by the river each year, were the most fertile in Sindh province.

The 1921 British Imperial Gazette for Sindh cites the chief produce of the delta region as rice paddy, bananas, camels, charcoal and timber. Wool and fish products were also produced in large quantities.

Until 1935, cargo boats regularly sailed up the Ochito Creek to Keti harbour from where they collected products for export to the Middle East.

Over the subsequent decades, an uglier face of change started to reveal itself all across the delta region.

“It came about when a huge irrigation infrastructure, built upstream in the Punjab province, started drawing water from the Indus and its four tributaries,” says Abdul Majid Qazi, a former senator, engineer and expert on water issues.

The first major irrigation canal on the Indus river system was built by the British in the Punjab in 1859. Five more canals were built between 1885 and 1914.

In Sindh province, three barrages were built between 1932 and 1962.

In 1960s, two of the Indus tributaries were apportioned to India under a water treaty, and two major dams were built on the remaining rivers with another network of canals supplying water to the Punjab.

Saline desert

Some experts from the Punjab dispute the view that irrigation works caused degradation of the delta, arguing that it is a natural process.

Since the mid-1980s, farmers in Punjab have carried out an aggressive campaign for a third major dam on Indus to meet the growing food and power shortages in the country.

But most experts, including those of International Conservation Union and the World Wildlife Fund, believe the delta’s woes are linked to the “over-extraction” of water for agriculture.

They cite various reports of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) that show that river flows into the delta decreased from around 80 million acre feet (Maf) in 1947 to less than 10 Maf during the 1990s.

During 2001-02, the flows dropped to as low as 0.72 Maf and 1.9 Maf respectively.

They believe that as the river flows diminished, the sea waters ran up the creeks and waterways of the entire delta region, turning its lush green fields into a grey, saline desert.

Since then, sea intrusion has turned millions of acres of the delta region into a vast saline wasteland, destroyed its rich mangrove forests and causing massive land erosion.

“More than 160 settlements, spread over 1.3m acres of delta, have been lost to the sea since 1970,” said Nadir Akmal Leghari, the Sindh Minister for Irrigation.

Sea intrusion has also turned the ground water brackish, while the canals that used to draw water from the river remain dry for most of the year.

This has caused a widespread shortage of drinking water, and forced women to walk for miles in the hope of finding a puddle in a dry canal bed.

Meanwhile, the shrinking of pastures have caused livestock and poultry numbers in the region to dwindle from 227,000 in 1991 to less than 80,000 in 2000, a government report says.

No figures are available for population displacement, but local people say that those who have stayed on are either too poor to contemplate migration, or just don’t want to leave a place where they were born and raised.

Ibrahim Soomro, the 80-year-old ironsmith of Kharo Chhan island, is one such person.

“I remember the times when this area was a lush green heaven. Then it started to change. There was salt water all around us. For a time we thought it will get better. Then we got used to it.”

Published: 2007/08/03 23:10:56 GMT

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Pakistan’s disappearing delta areas

  1. Major follows some sports, primarily during the playoffs.
    This means to sell your mods would be considered the same as pirating
    the game itself. The tables used for this unique drinking
    game can in fact be purchased commercially.

  2. It’s appropriate time to make a few plans for the longer term and it’s time to be
    happy. I have learn this submit and if I could I want
    to recommend you few fascinating issues or advice.
    Perhaps you could write subsequent articles relating to
    this article. I want to read even more issues
    about it!

  3. This design is wicked! You certainly know how to keep
    a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost.
    ..HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really enjoyed
    what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

  4. Break your 3 normal main meals into 5 smaller portion sizes – morning, snack, lunch, snack, dinner.
    Anyone who dares to make a closer inspection will find the underlying difference.
    The institution has persistently offered ideal programs and services for those struggling to
    achieve certain levels of body weight.

  5. You can find the best craftsmanship and sturdy quality hunting knife at.
    With this level of attention being paid to the very fine details, you can
    be confident of the accuracy of the product. It can be imperative to your knife needs to be well suited for your.

  6. I have been surfing online more than 4 hours today, yet I never found any
    interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth
    enough for me. In my view, if all webmasters and bloggers
    made good content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

  7. A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    There’s no doubt that that you ought to write more about this topic, it may not be a taboo subject but generally people don’t
    discuss such issues. To the next! Kind regards!!

  8. Hey, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has
    some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, amazing blog!

  9. Just desire to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness on your post is just great and that i could suppose you’re an expert in this subject.
    Well together with your permission allow me to snatch your feed to stay updated with approaching post.
    Thanks 1,000,000 and please keep up the gratifying
    work.

  10. When I initially commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me
    when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the
    exact same comment. Is there a means you are able
    to remove me from that service? Thanks!

  11. Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am inspired!
    Extremely helpful information particularly the closing
    phase 🙂 I care for such info a lot. I used to be looking for this particular info for
    a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s