Development: A land of sorrow

Published April 3, 2016
Clockwise: Fishermen at Kalka Chhani prepare their tools and nets; a view of Kalka Chhani from the bridge; a snapshot of the village Nabi Bux Thaheem; a glimpse of Kalka Chhani -Photos by the writer
Clockwise: Fishermen at Kalka Chhani prepare their tools and nets; a view of Kalka Chhani from the bridge; a snapshot of the village Nabi Bux Thaheem; a glimpse of Kalka Chhani -Photos by the writer

Once upon a time the entire coastal belt of Sindh was known as the centre of business and trade; it was also known for its customs, tourism, family traditions, and strong communal relationships.

But today things have changed. For years people have been living with chronic water shortage; there is also no electricity, and food insecurity has trapped them badly. At the same time, fodder for the cattle is a problem that only adds to the misery of the inhabitants.

Moving towards district Sujawal on the coastal belt one finds barren land spread far and wide. Reaching taluka Jati of district Sujawal, I meet Mohammad Ibrahim Jat (Jat is a caste and also refers to a person who herds camel), a social activist by profession. He tells me that taluka Jati is known as Qurb Jee Kaati, (a knife of love).


The coastal belt of Sindh was once the epicentre of trade but today its residents face a lack of basic facilities and economic growth


He said that along the coastal belt, 80pc to 90pc people live with some kind of shortage — whether it is water, electricity, education facilities or employment opportunities. “We have lived here for the last 60 to 70 years,” said Haji Nazar Muhammad, a local of village Nabi Bux Thaheem, “Our main problem is the shortage of drinking water as well as water for cultivation,” he added.

The basic rights of the people are neither respected nor protected by the authorities concerned, which adds to their frustration. Kalka Chhani, known for its evening breeze and lovely atmosphere, is where fishermen gather for work.

I met Haji Mohammad Thaheem, 45, a fisherman, who was busy with his tools. Although there was no hotel or shop in sight, following their tradition of showing respect to guests by offering refreshments, he offered to serve me tea or a cold drink.


The villagers keep changing their abode in search of better economic opportunities but many like Thaheem want to be able to work and live where they have done so for generations. “This has been our ancestral business for the last seven decades. Although, we pay 10 to 15pc tax when we sell the fish in the market, we have no help from the government; neither free boats or fishing nets,” he says.


The villagers keep changing their abode in search of better economic opportunities but many like Thaheem want to be able to work and live where they have done so for generations.

“This has been our ancestral business for the last seven decades. Although, we pay 10 to 15pc tax when we sell the fish in the market, we have no help from the government; neither free boats nor fishing nets,” he says.

“We are illiterate but we want our children to study. I don’t know why the government doesn’t provide us with a school in our village which has 60 to 70 houses,” adds Thaheem, as he prepares for a fishing trip out in the sea.

At a little distance from Kalka Chhani is Haji Doongar Jat. According to the locals it is known as ‘Pakistan jo aakhri goth’ (the last village of Pakistan). Beyond Haji Doongar Jat, the land is uninhabitable as the water reaches Kalka Chhani around 5 pm and the area becomes inundated with seawater. This is known as ‘juwa’ar’ by the locals.

Like many of his peers, Kareem Jat, a resident of the village Haji Doongar, isn’t happy with the government and the local politicians he elected: “They don’t deserve our votes,” he points out.

Kareem, however, appreciates the work done in the coastal belt area by the NGO, the Sindh Rural Support Programme (SRSP). “They have helped us in crucial times, provided us with food, etc. during floods,” he says.

Despite knowing that their lives will not change and the politicians will only pay attention to them during elections, the villagers enthusiastically vote. One of them says: “We cast votes in the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), whether our leaders visit us or not to inquire about our sorrows and miseries.”

The government needs to make urgent changes as people living in the boats face many threats. “Recently, in Keti Bandar, Kharo Chhani, 13 people were burnt alive as oil from a lamp caught a spark and set the boat ablaze. Among the dead, seven were women. A few were sleeping when the fire started,” adds Kareem with grief written over his face.

Fishermen, ironsmiths, carpenters, agriculturists, peasants and landlords — all face problems in this area but the degree to which they do differs depending on the type of livelihood they have.

According to SRSP’s Shehnaz Hajano, climate change has worsened living conditions: “areas near the sea are at greater risk as the seawater is swallowing the land rapidly. People are depressed and deprived. They have no government facility to help sustain their livelihood.”

He adds that the lack of health and education facilities has hit residents the hardest: “Many pregnant women die before they even reach the hospital. Better education is the need of the hour as it would help solve a lot of our issues in due course.”

Close to sunset I stop near a bridge constructed by the SRSP. While reading the signboard, I speak to a fellow on a motorcycle who is heading for the village of Bilawal Rind, U.C. Karlmalik.

I ask him if the bridge has benefited the people of this village. He smiles and says: “When we didn’t have this bridge we couldn’t take fruit and vegetables to the market as the [previous] wooden bridge wasn’t strong enough to bear the burden. But now, we can easily [do so]. This bridge is a blessing for us.”

NGOs such as SRSP have carried out significant work for the coastal communities but one wonders why the government’s presence isn’t visible here. Is there a government plan to provide education facilities, or one to deal with the effect of climate change and sea intrusion? Will the oil and gas companies that operate in the region be compelled to provide for the community through corporate social responsibility?

The area deserves to be restored to its original natural beauty; the best solution would be to have the government, corporations, NGOs, and the local community working together to eliminate problems faced by the residents of Sindh’s coastal belt.

The writer is a student of MS in Public Policy at Mehran University, Jamshoro. He tweets @furqanppolicy.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 3rd, 2016

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