Tag Archives: Indus

Dolphins of the Indus – Is it that time of year again?

Think of a doll with a fin – doesn’t sound quite right, does it? Rather mermaid – like. Still, thats the first thing that came to my mind when I first mouthed the word. It was much later that I would glimpse just a flapper through the murky waters and forever be drawn to the playful enigma that is the ‘dolphin’.

Dolphins, often depicted as intelligent, playful creatures in films are found in both oceans and rivers. Due to the murky environment in which the freshwater dolphins live, their ability to see has been impaired to the extent that they are only able to distinguish between light and dark and the direction from where the light is coming, earning them the title of ‘blind’. In its place they have developed a sophisticated echolocation system which helps them navigate and alerts them to the possibility of food.

Pakistan is host to the grey – brown blind Indus river dolphin or Platanista Minor named Bhulhan by the Sindhi people meaning a tall, voluptuous woman. This species is unique to Pakistan while its close relative is the Platanista Gangetica or Susu of the Meghna, Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers in Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

Another cousin, the Boto, resides in the Amazon and Orinoco rivers in South America. According to the International Union for the Consevation of nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red Data list, the Bhulhan is second on the list of endangered species after the Baiji of the Yagtze river in China, for which the last verified blind dolphin sighting was way back in September 2004.

Originally said to be a shy dweller of the ancient Tethys sea about 50 million years ago, the Indus river dolphin was forced to migrate when the sea began to dry up. The Indus river dolphin enjoyed a peaceful existence until the 1930s when the construction of barrages and dams impeded its migration, split it into small groups and degraded its habitat. Since then, the dolphins have been forced to remain confined to certain areas – definitely not a natural occurence.

The majority of the dwindling population of about 600 dolphins currently resides in the shadowlands – the waters between the Sukkur and Guddu barrages; an area declared as the Indus river dolphin reserve since 1974.

While different agencies such as the WWF – Pakistan in its  Indus River Dolphin Conservation project. Man made perils still await the dolphins of the Indus in the form of industrial waste spewing into rivers, water scarcity in the Indus, construction of dams and barrages, fishing nets and hunting by the locals for its meat, oil and fins.

It seemx Pakistan has been a far from friendly environment for the dolphin. While 2012 remains free of any reports of dead dolphins so far, it was around this time last year in 2011 that reports were received of nearly 6 dolphins, lost forever to the chemical filled waters between Guddu and Sukkur. One can only imagine what this 200 metre expanse of water may have done to the area and later to those eating the fish in these waters. Ironically, the impatience of fisherfolk may shoulder much of this blame. Dumping in chemicals for quick results may prove more addictive than not.

One can only hope that the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum in sync with the environmental agencies operating in the area sustain and balance sanity, patience and livelihoods.

Rais Mureed in Danger!

Saying that forests are important and then writing about that is as cliche’d as it can get. However the forest in question, ‘Rais Mureed’ has been a sorry bone of contention since many years. I last covered the issue of Rais Mureed in 2007 and little has improved since then.

While the Pakistani Government loudly proclaimed the year 2007 as its ‘green Pakistan’ year and prominently showed leaders on television planting, saplings, the mutilation of full grown trees continued unpunished and unabated from the timber mafia in the North to the mangrove destruction in the estuary region in the South. IUCN data records show that replantation of mangroves is not even half as fast as their destruction. the local fishermen community needs its driftwood for firewood, but more damage has been done in the name ofland reclamation and security concerns. Land mafia here is the biggest stake holder and it seems people will go to any lengths where land is involved.

land reclamation in the estuary regions

Rais Mureed is a typical belo forest located in the Matiari district of Sindh. This is the only notable vegetation in the region as the area is generally barren with sparse patches of thorny keekarr dotting the landscape. The bela region is located generally inarrow belts along the Indus flood plains. Their main varieties include Babul (acacia arabica) which is used for tanning and fuel and Shisham (dalbergia sissoo) which is an important source of timber and used in making furniture.

pastoral scenes - Matiari district

The damage to Rais Mureed and its adjoining Khebrani forests has been extensive. The local Bhucha and Khebar communities are poor farmers and use the forest land for grazing purposes. As yet, they are reportedly the only obstacle to the influential persons of Sammon who want the land razed to ground level for agriculture. Recently a woman of the Bhucha community was killed during a police operation in the area and village persons have demanded suo motu notice.

The Rais Mureed forest was earlier spread over 12,000 acres and figures taken till 2008, show that the area had dwindled to just over 2,000 acres. the forest has thus been deprived of nearly 80 million trees spread over 10,000 acres of land!

cultivation - Matiari district

It is sad to see farmers looking at short term benefits rather than long term plans. Perhaps lack of education and specifically, geographical and agricultural knowledge of modern science can be related to this as erosion is imminent if the situation does not improve. The adjoining areas have sandy soil and the forest is the sole protector of the neighbouring crops of wheat, maize and sugar cane. If the forest is destroyed, the sandy soil will not be able to stop the inflow of water during floods and could lead to not only extensive crop damage but also waterlogging in the long run.

The Belo Bachayo committee was initially the lone voice against the tree-slaughter as the local Bhucha community was one of the main affectees. However, now Khebar, Khoso, Rind, Chohan, Sehto and other communities have also joined hands with the Indus Development Organization IDO to urge for an increase in aerial seeding, GIS mapping of the forest region and a reduction in leasing of forest land. In a recent press conference on 18th April 2011, they also urged for the Provincial Government to abide by the orders of the Sindh High court.

It is only to be hoped that environmental agencies and more importantly, the Government looks into this matter seriously before we face another bout of floods during the monsoon season.