Friday, January 9, 2015

Pakistan's coastal villagers retreat as seas gobble land

Rina Saeed Khan in Reuters via the Thomson Reuters Foundation: For fisherman Sammar Dablo, it was as if "the seawater stole our homes" when land erosion forced his village to relocate further inland on Pakistan's south coast.

The people of the fan-shaped Indus Delta, where the Indus River meets the Arabian Sea, are among the poorest of the poor, mostly illiterate and living in wooden shacks on the mud flats. As seawater has washed into the delta, destroying thousands of hectares of fertile land and contaminating underground water channels, they survive by fishing in the saltwater creeks where dolphins are a common sight.

...The move was not easy, as households had to spend 15,000 rupees ($149) each to build new huts for themselves, he added. The story of Phirt village is not an isolated case. According to Dablo, many other communities in the delta are also shifting as their land disappears.

The latest scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out that at the same time as sea levels are rising, most Asian deltas are sinking due to groundwater extraction, floodplain engineering and the trapping of sediment by dams.

The Indus Delta has seen an 80 percent reduction in sediment since the early 20th century, according to a 2009 paper published in Nature Geoscience. Around 20 dams and a large number of canals divert the waters of the Indus River, depriving the delta of fresh water.

Some inhabitants have moved to inland mud flats, where they do not have to buy the land they occupy. Others are decamping to Karachi’s coastal villages where relatives have settled. ... Climate change is clearly increasing vulnerabilities in the delta area. Sea-level rise is contributing to higher storm surges, erosion, flooding and salinity, according to WWF-Pakistan...

NASA view of the Indus River delta

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