- Residents of neglected fishing hamlet craving basic facilities including drinking water
By Amar Guriro
KARACHI – It takes an hour-long drive on a road constructed on a platform – designed to remain above the seawater level during high tide – to reach Keti Bunder, a legendary fishing town and the last human settlement along the Indus River in Thatta district. Past governments had planned various mega projects for this town. Long before the plan for the Gwadar port was chalked out, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto intended to make Keti Bunder the third port of Sindh to meet the country’s growing needs as well as that of the landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia.
In 1995, the Pakistan People’s Party government had planned a thermal power project in the impoverished town. The current government led by the same party has recently announced that it would establish the new mega city of Zulfikarabad that will include this town.
However, no development scheme has been initiated in Keti Bunder so far. The residents of the town are deprived of healthcare, sanitation, power and educational facilities, but the most distressing aspect of the situation is the lack of drinking water.
Sticking to their traditions and cultural values, the residents of Keti Bunder used to refrain from selling milk in the past, but the drastic change in conditions has compelled them to sell even water now.
Drinking water, which is basically a state responsibility, is a costly commodity in this fishing hamlet. The nearest source to fetch drinking water is a small canal called Jhalu Nali located around 18 kilometres away from Keti Bunder and it is transported to the town using tankers, donkey carts or other means of transportation. The tanker owners sell water to shops in Keti Bunder from where residents buy small quantities of the commodity on high prices, with no guarantees on its quality.
Most residents rue the fact that they lost the only source of their livelihood – fishing – due to reduced water flow in the river and the increasing prices of fuel used in boats coupled with the money they spend on water has added to their miseries. Keti Bunder was once famous for vast fields of crops like rice, betel leaf and banana and poultry farming was also a lucrative business, but the residents have now run out income generation options due to the decreasing water level of the once mighty Indus.
The increasing sea intrusion in the region has destroyed mangrove forests, while the topographical alterations due to the lack of river water have shattered the bio-diversity, resulting in a decrease in livestock. The eminent breeds of the famous Kharai Camel, buffaloes and the famous red cow are now no more found in the area. Located in the fan-shaped Indus Delta where the Indus River meets the Arabian Sea, Keti Bunder is a unique taluka administration of Pakistan, as it has only one union council.
The sea intrusion resulting from the absence of river water in the downstream Kotri Barrage and climate change have forced the residents of the town to shift their localities three times in the past few decades. Of the 42 dehs (settlements or smaller revenue units) in the past, there are only 14 left, with a population of around 28,000 as per last national census, but the majority of them have now migrated to other parts of Thatta district as well as Karachi. The four major creeks of the Indus River out of 17 are located in this area including Hajamro, Kangri (also known as Turchhan Creek), Khoobar and Chhann, where the Indus used to flow in all its might in the past, but now seawater flows upstream in the creeks.
The small fisherfolk settlements in these creeks are deprived of basic civic amenities and seawater intrusion has been drastically worsened living conditions. Thatta is one of the most backward and poorest districts of Pakistan and within Thatta, Keti Bunder is the poorest area with no state-run civic facilities. There are only a few mud houses in the centre of the town and a few wooden shacks are scattered in other areas. The residents have built embankments around their small settlements to keep away seawater, which often inundates their houses. The Sindh Wildlife Department has declared the wetlands of Keti Bunder as protected game sanctuaries, but no any department has taken any initiative for alleviating the sorrows of its human settlements.
The town has always remained out of the focus of the mainstream media and sufferings of its inhabitants have largely been ignored. The elderly residents of this town told Pakistan Today that if government keeps ignoring the plights of the residents of Keti Bunder, the town will also disappear like Lari Bunder and Kharak Bunder – two famous towns in the same area that disappeared because of water shortage and its residents relocated to other localities.
The residents demanded that the government should release adequate amount of water in downstream Kotri to curb sea intrusion so that the human settlements in Keti Bunder can survive and also provide basic facilities to the town.