Life returns to normal as Biparjoy dissipates

Published June 17, 2023
Hotels and shops opened in Keti Bandar after days of closures caused by Cyclone Biparjoy on Friday.—Umair Ali
Hotels and shops opened in Keti Bandar after days of closures caused by Cyclone Biparjoy on Friday.—Umair Ali

• Minister says Pakistan was prepared, but largely spared
• Ban on going into open sea lifted; seawater starts receding from Keti Bandar

KETI BANDAR: Life began returning to normal on Sindh’s coast after days of panic and preparations ahead of Biparjoy’s landfall, with the storm packing sustained winds of up to 125 kilometres per hour as it struck India’s Gujarat on Thursday, but then weakening overnight.

More than 180,000 people in Sindh and the neighbouring Indian state of Gujarat fled the path of Biparjoy — which means “disaster” in Bengali — before it made landfall.

Pakistan was largely spared of the storm’s effects and no lives were lost. However, water levels did increase in some coastal areas.

“Pakistan was prepared but largely spared the full force,” Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman tweeted on Friday morning. “Sindh’s coastal areas like Sujawal were inundated by high sea levels, but most people had been evacuated to safe ground.”

The authorities in Karachi on Friday lifted the ban on going into the open sea. In Thatta, around 50 kilometres inland, shops and markets gradually reopened under drizzling skies and a cool ocean breeze.

“So far, so good,” 40-year-old government worker Hashim Shaikh told AFP. “We were pushed into a state of fear for the past several days, but now it seems to be over.”

Biparjoy came ashore as a Category 1 cyclone at landfall after being Category 3 in the Arabian Sea. It weakened to a cyclonic storm and was expected to become a depression by Friday evening, the Pakistan Meteorological Department said.

However, it advised fishermen to refrain from venturing out into the open sea until the system was over by Saturday (today).

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah also said life was returning to normal in the areas along the country’s coastline as the danger posed by Biparjoy had been averted.

 SUJAWAL: Evacuees gather at a temporary shelter, set up in a government school, after Cyclone Biparjoy made landfall. While the cyclone spared most parts of Sindh, thousands of people had to be evacuated from their homes.—AFP
SUJAWAL: Evacuees gather at a temporary shelter, set up in a government school, after Cyclone Biparjoy made landfall. While the cyclone spared most parts of Sindh, thousands of people had to be evacuated from their homes.—AFP

‘Zero damage’

In the fishing port of Keti Bandar — forecast to be hardest hit by the storm — “there was zero damage”, according to an official from the Sindh provincial irrigation department.

A few shops have opened in the city as intruding seawater has started receding. Fishermen have gradually started returning to their bamboo-made abodes near the jetty in Keti Bandar, though after paying an economical cost and losing several days of their fishing-based income.

Most shops, however, remained closed and houses locked. “I have just returned from Mirpur Sakro after staying there for around a week due to displacement triggered by Cyclone Biparjoy,” Mir Hassan Mallah said.

He invariably earns Rs1,500 to Rs2,000 per day in fishing. “I lost that income in the last week when we were told not to venture into the sea as the cyclone neared,” Mr Mallah said.

Pyaro Mallah, another fisher, makes both ends meet by catching crabs in shallow seawater. “That income of mine has gone in the last few days. Now, we are waiting to earn through some daily wage labour,” he said.

Mir Hassan Mallah said, “We were transported to Mirpur Sakro, but we have returned on our own. I didn’t stay in a relief camp as it didn’t have a place worth staying with family. So, I ended up in a friend’s family,” he said.

Nearby labourers — engaged by the Sindh irrigation department — were busy strengthening a dyke built to protect Keti Bandar city.

Ali Hassan Zardari, Sindh Assembly member from Ghora Bari constituency, had been instrumental in development works done in Keti Bandar, including building new water treatment plants. He was considered the de facto irrigation minister in the provincial government.

Keti Bandar is a city with a population of around 65,000 in three union councils of Ghora Bari taluka. “The Keti Bandar union council has a population of around 19,700,” said Abdul Wahid Memon, the UC chairman. “Everyone had left the area due to the potential threat of cyclone, but now they are returning.”

People had left for Karachi’s Ibrahim Hyderi, Gharo, Mirpur Sakro and others on their own or through the administration’s efforts.

“Cyclones always have an impact in the coastal region,” said Zarif Khero, acting Sindh irrigation secretary, who was visiting Keti Bandar. “Indus Delta has been facing degradation over the years. Intruding sea through the 17 creeks in the coastal belt has worsened delta’s health,” he said.

Prof Altaf Siyal, a dean at the Sindh Agriculture University in Tandojam, agreed with Mr Khero’s observations and stressed the need for a survey to assess Biparjoy’s impact on its ecosystem, land, agriculture and livelihood.

“Cyclones like Biparjoy might have caused significant erosion along coastal areas, leading to land degradation. Powerful waves and storms erode coastline and coastal vegetation, lead to loss of land and degradation of the ecosystem,” he said.

For the environmentalist Nasir Panhwar, coastal areas’ degradation of the delta has increased manifold ever since sea intrusion became more pronounced in deltaic regions.

He said mangroves and islands were natural barriers against calamities caused by the sea. “Decades-long sea intrusion has widened the creeks,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2023

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