THATTA, Dec 25 Sea intrusion in Indus deltaic region, depletion of mangrove forests and topographical alterations due to non-release of sweet water has not only shattered biodiversity but also resulted in a gradual decline in production and promotion of livestock, particularly Kharai camel.

Kharai camel or Indus deltaic camel is an indigenous breed. The one-humped camel is said to be symbolic for Sindh. Four camel breeds are found in Sindh i.e. Laari, Dhatti, Kharai and Sakrai. Kharai camel has the capability to equally survive and ply on land and the sea. It has remained the first preference of the natives for centuries. It is believed that Kharai breed has the characteristics of a good camel, which is used in racing in the Gulf countries.

Indifferent attitude of the livestock department is depriving the country of foreign exchange that could be earned through the export of this distinct animal.

Kharai breed derives its name from Kharochhan meaning salt water swamps. In Sindhi language the word “Khao” means saltish. Khara or Kharo tract is a coastal zone of the Arabian Sea forming southern belt of Sindh.

Masood Ahmed Lohar, national coordinator GEF (Global Environment Facility) SGP (Small Grants Programme) UNDP, who has launched conservation and promotion of Kharai camels from coastal town Shah Bandar in collaboration with an NGO, Shah Bandar Development Society, said that deltaic population was dependent on its biodiversity and environment for their survival.

He said that 1.3 million population of district Thatta was usually considered to be a disadvantaged group in terms of income and public service facilities and the district was ranked the second least developed district of Sindh in terms of living conditions.

He said that Shah Bandar was once the hub of the threatened breed of Kharai camel. Established in 1759 by Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro, Shah Bandar played an important role in the socioeconomic uplift of this area and was a seaport but the earthquake of 1819 destroyed it and it could not be rehabilitated again.

The population of Kharai camels is shrinking due to scarce grazing resources. Lack of food undermines the nutritional status of camel herd, making it vulnerable to disease and negativity affecting reproductive rate. Camels currently represent a typical 'orphan commodity' for whose survival no public institution or agency feels responsible.

The conservation agencies and the forest department seem mainly interested in wildlife and often appear antagonistic towards camels, deeming them a threat to vegetation.

PPP MPA Humera Alwani who hails from a coastal constituency told Dawn that Thatta district's Jatt community was predominantly engaged in camel breeding. She said that due to increased sea intrusion in delta, grazing points and agricultural land had vanished.

This situation has collapsed the rural economy of the coastal area, which is heavily dependent on livestock and agriculture and people are forced to migrate to other areas.

Mitho Maheri, a literary personality of the area, told this scribe that affiliation of camel with local population remains vital that not only Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai who had mentioned camels in his 'surs' Khumbat, Sassui, and others but poets like Sachchal Sarmast, Shah Inayat, Khalifo Nabi Bux Qasim, Chango Jatt, Shaikh Ayaz and others also made a mention of camels in their poetry.

He said that Jatt community, which was spread from the Ran of Kachh to Sindh and Makran and Balochistan, and camels were believed to be vital for each other. Local experts said that around 500 families from the Jatt and other communities owned herds of female camels and made a living from selling the young animals. Some of these families in Chhachh Jahan Khan and some parts of Jati generated additional income by selling camels' milk, they said.

They said that some 3,500 people and their families owned a male camel plus cart and made their living by providing short and medium distance transportation in big cities, in remote desert areas and in the hilly terrains of Kohistan range of the Thatta district. It is also being used for pulling water from wells and ploughing lands.

The survival and promotion of camels as well as other livestock including buffaloes, fish and shrimps are a must for the survival of the Indus delta. The rehabilitation of Indus delta requires both short term and long term actions.

Experts are of the view that immediate actions that could be taken for the conservation of livestock particularly the Kharai camels include release of the minimum required water flow to downstream Kotri, which is 10MAF, agreed in the 1991 water accord, without any delay till the actual water requirement of delta is determined.

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