WATER is both a blessing and a curse for the coastal communities that live along the Indus delta region. Earlier, a report in this paper gave a glimpse into how sea intrusion in recent decades has changed the centuries-old way of life for the people of Kharo Chan in Sindh. As water consumes entire villages, the families are forced to relocate. In Thatta alone, according to some reports, over 2m acres of land have been lost to an expanding sea. Additionally, when saltwater destroys once fertile farming lands, or mixes with groundwater, entire communities are at risk of suffering from food and water insecurity, disease, and falling below the poverty line. Meanwhile, insufficient freshwater reaching the delta has made it increasingly difficult for residents to access clean drinking water. Much has already been written about the mismanagement and unfair distribution of water between the provinces, and the damage caused by the construction of dams and barrages along the Indus River, which has resulted in Sindh receiving a trickle of the water supply it is due under the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991. The lack of freshwater flow and increased salinity also poses a grave threat to the Indus delta’s once dense mangrove forests. Not only do these forests protect the land from sea intrusion and prevent natural disasters, they also serve as breeding grounds for a diverse range of aquatic wildlife, and the fishing communities are dependent on them.
While March 22 marked World Water Day, the event was largely overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and the sudden rise in the number of cases around the world. As often said, one of the simplest and most effective ways to counter the spread of the virus is by practising basic hygiene and regularly washing hands with soap. But how will people who do not have access to water do that? This is a good time as any to remember that water and sanitation are human rights, not luxuries.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2020