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Article of the Month

Life on an island
By Anwer Abro

Kharo Chhan is situated at a distance of 80 km from National Highway from Gharo town and 150 km from Karachi in the Qalandari Creek of Thatta District. Around 20 to 25 villages exist at this piece of land having an area of 25 square km, which is surrounded by seawater.

Life isn't good here. Acute shortage of drinking water has made life miserable for its residents. An angry elder of the village that there was no drinking water for them and they buy it, even for the last bath of a dead body, from the not so near Garho town. The villagers consume about one thousand gallons of drinking water daily, which is bought at the rate of ten rupees per gallon.

In order to feed their domestic animals with some water, the people here pour drinking water in a tub and when the thirsty animals starts to drink it, the people then mix brackish seawater into it. Water is an expensive commodity for these poor people and they cannot afford to feed them pure drinking water.

The encroaching seawater has not only destroyed the Indus Delta, human lives and wild life of the area, but also converted the most fertile lands into baron ones. Everyday, about half-foot land is encroached by the fast spreading seawater. Presently, seawater has ruined around 6,000,00, acres of fertile land. Haji Abu Baker Samo, a local landlord says if the sweet-water is not released in the Indus River down stream, to Kotri, immediately, both Keti Bander and Kharo Chhan talukas will be destroyed forever.

In the past, the Indus used to flow through here and into the Arabian Sea, all year long. That is why the area was a rich red rice producer. The quantity was enough to be supplied to all of Sindh and also exported to various countries. "Tens of hundreds of people used come here from Kotri and other parts of Sindh by boats using the Indus River and buy rice," says 65 year old Mitho Khaskheli.

Our entourage of journalists and writers from Karachi was served with a red meal backed from red rice at the lunch. However, they couldn't serve is with any fish. Why, "In the early days of our lives, we had seen sweet water every where in the delta," an old man said. He added that now there is one seawater. Due to such a situation, Sindh's very won delicacy, Pallo has disappeared from this area. Shrimp production has also reduced while the life of other fish species is also at stake. Apart from it a number of farms, including those of bananas, have been destroyed due to seawater. "Each farm used to produce about 5,000,00. rupees per annum worth of produce. But now these have been converted into a desert," says a local Usman Baloch.In better times, this area was also the centre of Ajrak and Bandhan making. But today no one is engaged in it. Due to the financial crisis the people of the area are earning their livelihood doing some labour work at Gharho, Sujawal, Mirpur Bathoro and other towns of Thatta district. A smaller number of villagers are engaged in their old profession of fishing.

Kharo Chhan union council has a population of about fifty thousand people, but it has no basic civic, medical, educational and health facilities. A health centre is here, but there are no medicines here. According to Abdul Haleem Khati, a primary teacher, "The medical officer, dispenser, dresser and Behshti (a person, who fetches water) are drawing their salaries while sitting at their homes."

"There is no medical facility available for a pregnant women in their delivery case or a person bit by a snake." says Mitho Khaskheli. About four to five women of Kharo Chhan die due to delivery complications, every month. Proper health centres are in Baghan and Sajan Waree, but these localities are far away from this island, so immediate medical attention is out fo the question.

There is a single primary school for all the 25 villages situated at the island. There is also a single teacher for 54 boys and girls students. The school building is wooden building. The logic behind it is that frequent cyclones and earthquakes hit the area and during these natural catastrophes these buildings might be less harmful for the human lives. So far, 15 boys of the island have received education up to Matric and Intermediate, but they have been unable to find a job. The villagers had a lot resting on the cancelled Keti Bander Project. Its accomplishment would have brought prosperity in the lives of the local population.

Interestingly, the school and health centre buildings were made by wooden material, while the police station was made by backed blocks, where no personnel are present.

But then with such miserable conditions, why are these people still here? Usman Baloch, a social activist remarked, "we cannot leave our Mulik" meaning land. "A few prosperous people have left the island but now they are poor.

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