Don’t ignore Indus delta

Abdul Razak Shaikh

All over the world, rivers naturally flow into the sea. But ever here it is the sea flowing into the Indus Delta. The Indus Delta is a unique coastal system where the sea and the river meet, where the soil was very fertile due to the accumulation of silt from the river for thousands of years. But after the diversion of the upstream water there the amount of silt has become less while bringing up various threats to the delta. The delta included 17 major creaks starting from the Gizri Creek to Sir Creek. Due to the diversion, there is a less freshwater flow in the delta now and so there is an intrusion of the sea, a man-made disaster. Meanwhile, the rise in sea level is due to climate change, which is again man-made if we go into the depth of it. And because of the sea intrusion, the land is losing its fertility. The falling of the level of groundwater has hurt agriculture. Farmers used to grow red rice here, which is no longer possible, because of the non-availability of fresh water.
The former government intentionally stopped using telemetry system through verbal order to avoid giving due share to Sindh. At present, manual gauges are being used in place of the telemetry system due to which the actual figures are not clear. Presently statics received that the agricultural land in District Thatta, Sijawal and Badin is severely affected due to lack of water from Kotri downstream. If downstream water has not been released properly then chances are that districts Hyderabad, Tando Muhammad Khan and Mirpurkhas will also suffer and land will be non-fertile. The study is published in a UK-based journal Desalination and water treatment (2017). It’s the third study conducted to examine water quality within these designated areas and the first to evaluate pollution levels in the creek system.
Thirty-six samples collected during six field surveys were analyzed for heavy metal contents such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and zinc as well as for cyanide, oil and grease, biochemical oxygen demand, dissolved oxygen, total phosphate, phenol and total organic carbon values. The objective was to assess levels of pollution in the Indus delta creek system. According to the study, the complex distributary system (creeks) of the Indus towards the sea created the world’s second largest submarine fan in the Arabian Sea. The creek system of the Indus covers an area of about 5,000 square kilometers, which finally merges into the Indus delta. The major changes of the river Indus had occurred near its mouth and the main channels shifted significantly westward four times until it occupied the present course. The results of another investigation into surface water contamination revealed that water was not suitable for drinking as per WHO guidelines and National Standards for Drinking Water Quality Pakistan.
It is not sweet water which is going into the sea. It is precious agricultural land of Pakistan that has been devoured by the sea. As information collected that 2.5 million acres of Thatta, Sijawal and Badin districts had already been lost and the studies pointed out that if sea intrusion was not effectively checked, the sea would reach the city of Thatta by 2050. If 32 Million Acre Feet (MAF) of fresh water per year were actually going into the sea, we would not be facing the problem of sea intrusion. The fact is that even the 10 MAF release downstream Kotri agreed upon as an interim measure pending detailed studies in the inter-provincial water accord was not being provided. As a result, the mangrove population in tidal floodplains and fish and shrimp production has “Fisheries too have been hurt as grazing land for livestock has also become scarce and the animals had to migrate. With the animals leaving, humans too have moved due to an increased lack of livelihood putting added pressure on urban cities.
Pakistan is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. “We do sign but then we also forget. The Indus Delta is also a signified Ramsar site which should have been taken special care of as it has national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and an important ecosystem. Another harm done to the Indus Delta was the destruction of the mangrove forests, which provided a natural shield against cyclones and tsunamis along with being the breeding ground for shrimp and several species of sea life. Among the researcher’s recommendations were revisiting the water accord of 1991 by incorporating the environmental flow concept and declaring the Indus Delta as the fifth shareholder of water distribution, besides the four provinces. The government of Pakistan must establish an Indus Delta rehabilitation program with an independent body to implement it. The government should also ensure at least 10 million acre-feet water downstream Kotri Barrage immediately till such time as the precise amount of water is accessed through a detailed study. A comprehensive assessment of losses must be carried out and communities provided adequate compensation and a development plan should be launched while recognising the communities rights over all the natural resources.
— The writer is retired officer of Sindh Govt.

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