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Hopes for coastal villages’ revival

December 23, 2012

Villagers silhouetted as they sit outside their tents in a relief camp some 26 km from Dadu in Pakistan's Sindh province. – Reuters (File Photo)

ISLAMABAD, Dec 23: For Amir Ali, 35, of Siddique Dablo village in Union Council Keti Bundar of Thatta district, a small-scale intervention under a donor-funded programme for solar panels and a water purification plant has been a life-changing experience. He can now light his one-room hut with two energy savers and charge his mobile phone. He also has access to clean drinking water.

But more than these basic necessities, the people of this small village of 30 huts have now established a community organisation which has been able to get over 60 computerised national identity cards and get anti-polio drops administered to their children. They also plan to demand a school and a dispensary.

Siddique Dablo village near Keti Bundar is among hundreds of other villages and shanty towns in Thatta and Badin districts of Sindh where almost 79 per cent live below poverty line defined as $1.25 per day earning.

Declining river flows and rise in sea level owing to climate change have played havoc with lives of thousands of people living in the Indus delta where the sea intrusion has submerged over 54 kilometres of productive land.

Keti Bundar which used to be a flourishing port, at times lending surplus finances to Karachi municipal agencies a few decades back, is now a struggling town – not a port - with dilapidated roads.

A desalination plant installed with funding from the Asian Development Bank has helped hundreds of people living in nearby mudflats to have access to clean drinking water instead of fetching it by boats from as far as 12 kilometres.

According to Muhammad Tahir Qureshi, senior adviser of coastal ecosystem of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Indus river that used to flow 150 million acre feet of water into the sea in 1900 dropped to 87 million acre feet when Sukkur Barrage was built in 1932. The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty with India and subsequent construction of Mangla and Tarbela dams further reduced flows to 35 MAF.

The 1991 water apportionment accord among four provinces envisaged 10 MAF of assured supplies downstream Kotri “but practically 2-3 MAF water is now flowing downstream Kotri”. As a result, flora and fauna have been badly affected in the Indus Delta. Red Rice that used to be exported before these developments has become extinct while mangrove species have dropped from eight to between one and four.

With fresh revenue flows from the 7th National Finance Commission Award, the situation may change in coming decades.

Under the 2004 household survey, about 79 per cent households live below poverty line in the coastal belt of Thatta and Badin districts, says Dr Umar Memon, project director of the Sindh Coastal Community Development Project.

“Over 1.2 million hectares of land has been lost to sea intrusion in a short period of time.”

He said master plans for five and 25 years for the development of coastal region were in final stages of preparation for poverty alleviation, natural resource rehabilitation plan, infrastructure development sector plan, coastal research plan, oil palm cultivation plan and increasing coconut plantation by 1,000 acres.

“These will need a total of Rs479 billion to regain lost ground. M/S Euroconsult has been asked to submit final report on master plans by Dec 31, 2012,” he said.

He said an ongoing development plan for coastal region for which the Asian Development Bank had approved Rs3.13 billion had mostly been completed with an expenditure of Rs1.95 billion. The provincial government, he said, had already requested the ADB to grant a one-year extension beyond June 2013 to cover some time wasted by natural calamities.

The master plan will include construction of 100km of carpeted roads, elevated platforms for coastal communities to provide shelter during coastal flooding, cyclone-resistant school buildings, clean drinking water, fish storage facilities and supply of fishing equipment and income generating schemes.

Under the same plan, the provincial government is planning to increase seafood exports to $1 billion in the medium-term from the current level of $300 million, according to Khawar Pervez Awan, Director of Fisheries Department, Sindh. He said the fishery sector’s annual production currently stood at 400,000 metric tons which could be increased by investing in infrastructure and value addition.

To achieve this target, Mr Awan said, a contract had been awarded to Infofish of Malaysia to conduct a detailed feasibility study, check water quality, fish and other seafood potential.