In-depth: Sindh destroyed, one calamity at a time

“Most days when my kids ask me for water, I ask them to go to sleep instead”.
Published August 20, 2015
Mai - An old resident of Varshi Kohli village is 70 years old. Her entire village migrated from Nagarparkar to a village in Badin called Varshi Kohli. But here, they face a whole new wrath of climate change. - Photo by Shameen Khan
Mai - An old resident of Varshi Kohli village is 70 years old. Her entire village migrated from Nagarparkar to a village in Badin called Varshi Kohli. But here, they face a whole new wrath of climate change. - Photo by Shameen Khan

This documentary was shot in four districts of Sindh including Thatta, Badin, Dadu and Tharparkar. It aims to fill the knowledge gap between climate change and its gruesome effects on men, women and children.

The people of Sindh face an onslaught of natural calamities each year, and each year the story is the same. Countless homes are lost, children die or go missing, livestock is decimated.

But alongside natural disasters, manmade hazards have brought about a whole new host of problems that have destroyed the entire ecosystem.

“Most days when my kids ask me for water, I ask them to go to sleep instead.”

Zahida, a local of Allah Bux Tewna, a village in Dadu is pictured in her home with her son. - Photo by Shameen Khan
Zahida, a local of Allah Bux Tewna, a village in Dadu is pictured in her home with her son. - Photo by Shameen Khan

Though she is a woman of few words, local resident Zahida's eyes speak volumes. The lines etched on her face are a marker of the ordeals she faces each day just to ensure her children have water to drink, and are fed enough to carry on for one more day.

This is how life is in the destitute village of Alla Bux Tewna, situated on the border of Dadu district. Each day is a battle for survival for the locals who lack basic necessities to lead a normal life.

There is no electricity, gas, schools, medicinal care or even access to drinking water; living in sheer deprivation, uncertainty is what defines life out here.

Where it snows in Sindh

Dadu has a dynamic typography, bordered by the vast Kirthar mountain range on the west and the mighty Indus River flowing along it’s eastern border.

It is a stark contrast of rain fed areas and mountain ranges, and stretches where there is no rain for months; where floods are a regular nightmare, and the ecosystem is in a state of collapse.

Dadu district is vulnerable to natural disasters caused by downhill water stream from Kirthar range, heavy rainfalls, and flooding in the Indus River. Another persistent source of frequent flooding is the poor maintenance of agricultural drainage systems.

Gorakh Hills, the highest peak of Sindh which is situated at an altitude of approximately 6,000 ft. is another element that adds to the sporadic climatic changes varying from sub-zero temperatures in the winters to a maximum of 20 degrees Celsius in the summers and 120 mm of average annual rainfall.

In winters, Gorakh Hills often experiences snowfall; a wholly peculiar experience for Sindh. Johi, however, in contrast to Gorakh experiences extremely hot temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius.

These great differences in temperature and environment pose a great challenge to locals. The residents of Gorakh are nomads who come down with their families and livestock and settle in Johi in the winters. Gorakh Hills can never be a permanent home for them due to its harsh climatic conditions.

The struggle to survive

Over the years, locals have only seen an increase in their daily struggle. When they are safe from natural calamities, the manmade hazards come in the way of their prosperity.

Zahida like the other women, spends her days collecting cow dung for fuel and struggling to grow vegetables in soil poisoned by salt water in addition to her household chores.

Her hands have lost their colour as she wakes up each morning to make ropes. The process is tedious and rolling the Phish plant into ropes leaves her hands calloused.

The duties of the women do not end here; each day they walk 3 km to a nearby village called Faridabad to fetch water. This water, however, is saline.

Each of them carry enough buckets to balance on theirs heads while their men are migrating in search of better jobs.

For the rest of the rural population in Sindh, the anguish is not quite dissimilar.

A woman harvesting sugarcane in Badin. - Photo by Shameen Khan
A woman harvesting sugarcane in Badin. - Photo by Shameen Khan

When Tharparkar was in bloom

Eesro recalls his childhood when his village was green, everyone was happy and living a prosperous life; crops were in abundance and they had sufficient livestock and were surrounded by peacocks.

There was music in Thar, people sang songs of happiness and wealth. But now even the tunes have faded into those of despair; all they sing are verses for rain.

The district has been a witness to harsh living conditions in the past 50 years however recently; the complexities of their lifestyle have compounded.

With climatic conditions moving from bad to worse, monsoon rains have shifted causing an agricultural drought; hence there is no food.

As of late, rainfall has been a sight unknown for the past three years. Their fields are now barren, livestock is dying from malnutrition and some are lucky enough to get water at 60 feet below while others struggle to find sweet water at 600 feet below ground.

As night turn into days and days into nights again; each year the people of Tharparkar sow seeds and wake up in hope to receive rainfall.

Since the past few years they carry on each day just in hope that one day, very soon it will rain and their crops will grow again.

Upon receiving the first shower they begin sowing seeds in their fields but then the rain stops and ultimately their seeds go to waste.

While some are in hopes for rains, others in the same district shudder in fear just by the thought of it.

A journey to the past

A precarious position

When a powerful storm in 1999, hit Yameen Jat, a village in Badin; Allah Rakhio lost more than the modest roof over his head. His boy lost his life; he was his only child.

It was past midnight, and he was in despair as he could not find a place to bury him; there was water everywhere.

“Since a burial was not an option, I kept him on my shoulder and waited. It was 1am, I got tired but the storm did not,” recounts the grief stricken Allah Rakhio.

In the aftermath, several houses collapsed, many of their relatives lost their lives, children drowned and livestock was swept away.

The saline water destroyed their fields but it does not end here, they may lose yet more as the threat of coastal breach and sea intrusion compounds each year with rising levels of the sea.

Drinking toxic water to survive

Borrowed time on evanescent land

Beautifully handcrafted boats anchored in perspective, water lilies afloat; Manchar Lake was once a unique ecosystem visited by people from far and wide. The lake’s water was picture perfect. Rare species of aquatic plants, reptiles, insects and migratory birds were once found here in abundance.

Crops such as rice, wheat, and tobacco were all grown here.

Manchar Lake, one of Asia's largest freshwater lakes, is no ordinary lake. The locals received rains throughout the year and every guest was served their famous biryani.

Fish were in abundance, and the fertile land was able to support agriculture and livestock.

While the men set out for fishing, the women prepared fishing nets, and collected the edible aquatic plants, in addition to their responsibilities of managing household chores. There was a government school on a boat, and health facilities were also provided by boat to the fishermen community living on the lake.

But fate took a harsh turn for people in Manchar Lake.

Living in thatched huts situated below sea level a few yards from an embankment, they now spend their days fishing for catch which is inadequate and poisoned. Manchar Lake has two villages settled right across one another; Khair Deen Mallah and Khan Mohammad Mallah.

In the past there were almost 50,000 fishermen living in Manchar Lake, on 2,000 houseboats. At present there are only 60 houseboats with 100 families living on the Lake.

The main reason for shifting to the embankment was the deteriorating quality of the water in the lake, due to the effluents discharged from the Main Nara Valley or (MNV) Drain.

As the water of the lake became poisonous the fish, and plants died, which led to a reduction in the fish catch, and a reduction in income for the fishermen.

The primary livelihood of the fishermen has changed, and since there are no alternative sources of income some of the fishermen have migrated to other coastal areas. These people have been fishermen for generations; they do not know any other skill.

The women say they used to live in houseboats, but now they have made thatched huts for themselves, which are fragile and not as stable as their old houseboats. They fear that these huts would not withstand a flood like the one in 2010.

The floods of 2010 and heavy rains in 2011 were the worst for the people in this area, they lost their thatched houses, and were shifted to relief camps where they stayed for three months. Coping with the floods meant shifting to safe areas, the embankment, or moving inland away from the lake.

Climate scientists predict that this area will be inundated as sea levels rise and storm surges increase, and a cyclone or other disaster could easily wipe away their rebuilt life.

But Hakim Zadi, an old resident is trying to hold out at least for a while — one of hundreds living on borrowed time in this landscape of straw huts, deplorable circumstances, desperate choices and impossible hopes.

When manmade hazards destroyed everything

All efforts in vain

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

There is silence everywhere. Rural communities despite having the knowledge and experiences of climate change are unable to break-out this silence.

People are suffocating as there is no one listening to their concerns and miseries. The government has failed to react and respond quickly. It is likely that many voices of this grossly neglected land will be silenced forever.

Credits: Sarang

Executive Producer: Dr. Khalida Ghaus

Producer: Asif Iqbal, Manzoor Hussain Memon

Director: Bilal Brohi

D.O.P: Faizan Ali

2nd Camera Unit: Jamil Alvi

3rd Camera Unit: Shameen Khan

Technical Producer: Fahad Anjum

Audio Engineer: Umar Najeeb Khan

Voice Over: Faizan Haquee

Camera Assistants: Zeeshan, Abdul Majid, Nabeel, Naeem, Waqar

Script: Shameen Khan, Bilal Brohi

Research: Shafaq Khalid, Shahnawaz Junejo, Qazi Asif, Nazia Qureshi

Ground Coordinator: Mukhtiar, Aftab Mangi

Audio & Visual Post-Production: Electrikroom Studios

Special Thanks: Ali Abbas Brohi, Anjum Nisar, Omar Sharif, Asad Ali Shah