KARACHI, June 25: While the residents of many islands around Karachi had an equally bitter experience of Saturday’s thunderstorm that left more than 200 dead in mainland Karachi, they were fortunate in that they did not suffer any loss of life.
Baba and Bhit islands, separated by a creek, cover six-square-kilometre area near the Karachi Port Trust.
Baba, larger than Bhit, is also the most populous island located in the proximity of Karachi. It has a population of some 12,000 people whereas Bhit has around 11,000. Close to them is Shams Pir Island having a population of some 4,500 people.
Most islanders are fisherman.
“The roof of my katcha house was blown off by the thunderstorm,” said Ameer Mohammad, a resident of Baba Island where scores of houses sustained heavy damage after being struck by the storm. Similar is the situation in Bhit and Shams Pir islands where the poor fishermen families are busy rebuilding their houses, most of them having lost their roofs or walls. Some houses have been razed to the ground.
Mohammad Hussain, another resident of Baba Island, said: “We suffered the damage that directly relates to our livelihood although it is an off-season.” There are hundreds of boats anchored off the islands on account of the two-month (June-July) seasonal ban on fishing.
The Saturday storm destroyed dozens of small boats and caused at least four large ones to flip over. The fishermen’s catch lying in the boats drained away into the sea.
Ali Mohammad, a fisherman, said the islanders were expecting emergency help and assistance from the provincial and city governments but despite their hue and cry, nothing of the sort happened even two days after they underwent the tribulation. “We are quite familiar with such an attitude as we have been enduring denial of even basic facilities for decades,” he added in disgust.
UC Nazim of Baba-Bhit Mohammad Hanif said the authorities concerned had already been informed of the pathetic situation with the request for urgent help. “Besides, people have also been doing the rehabilitation work on a self-help basis,” he pointed out.
Once a tourist spot and main attraction for picnickers, Baba and Bhit islands have now lost their glory only due to the neglect on the part of the authorities, who have constantly been denying basic civic facilities to the islanders. The present city government has also many development plans for these islands but they are yet to be executed.
The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), which represents the fishing community, said the post-rain situation on about two dozen islands was not so disturbing but that prevailing on more than 200 small and large islands scattered in the limits of Thatta and Badin districts was alarming.
“There are 250 islands in Sindh having a total population of more than 50,000,” Saami Memon, a PFF leader, told Dawn. “The PFF has volunteers on almost every small or large island… they have reported heavy damage to the islanders’ property – houses, boats, belongings, etc,” he said quoting messages from Keti Bunder, Kharochhan, Shah Bunder and other areas.
Meanwhile, the government has now mobilised the law-enforcement agencies and the departments concerned to shift all those vulnerable to the cyclone that is looming large on Sindh’s coastline.