Published On: Fri, Apr 15th, 2016

Sea level rise destroys the delta communities of River Indus

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By Rashid Ali Panhwer

KARACHI – Climate change triggered sea level rise is reshaping the lives of Indus Delta coastal communities in extremely unfriendly manner by redefining their relationship with the natural environment they had lived with in harmony for centuries.
According to experts the term climate change describes a long-term shift in weather conditions identified by changes in temperature, precipitation, winds, and other indicators. Deforestation and burning of fossil fuels are the most important sources of build-up of Green House Gases in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.
Global warming is heating up oceans, which causes seawater to swell resulting in sea level rise. It also makes glaciers melt faster and the quantity of water so released finds its way into oceans and adds to sea water level. Studies suggest that temperature in deltaic plains is expected to rise to the tune of 4 degree centigrade by the end of this century which implies more rise in sea levels.
Indus Delta is also not immune to this situation and continuing to change its face. Rising level of seawater has already engulfed vast stretches of dry land and has intruded into once rich fertile lands of Indus Delta.

Naimatullah Soho, Senior Coastal Engineer National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) Pakistan told that the annual rate of sea level rise in coastal areas of Indus Delta is 1.7 mm. He informed that the soil of the coastal areas of Sindh province is less resistant to the ocean waves and is easily washed away by the ocean currents. “About 2.2 million acre land has been inundated by sea level rise in Thatta, Sujawal and Badin districts.” he told. Some areas of Malir district are also being affected by sea intrusion.
The phenomenon has disturbed the natural ecosystem of Indus Delta and is affecting human health, safety and livelihoods. It is ultimately stripping local populations of their quality of life and exposing them to uncertain future. Intensity of cyclones and floods has increased manifold due to sea level rise which causes huge loss to local populations in terms of life and property.
Drinking water supplies are shrinking for local communities due to depletion of surface water bodies and degradation of groundwater with salt water intrusion; fertile agricultural lands are becoming barren causing food insecurity and land loss in coastal areas is forcing communities to migrate from their ancestral villages.
Environmental flows prevent sea intrusion caused by rising sea level but diversions of upstream flows, damming and other engineering structures have reduced fresh water flow downstream. The annual river flow downstream of Kotri barrage was about 150 MAF in past. Now the part of the river beyond Kotri remains dry most days of the year.
Mangrove forests play dual role of protecting coastal areas from sea intrusion and providing subsistence to approximately 200,000 people as they create a breeding ground for marine fish and other species of commercial value.
According to Sindh Forest Department, the salinity of the sea water has increased to 50 ppt due to reduction in flow of fresh water to the Indus Delta over last 50 years and the flow of alluvium has declined from 400 million to 100 million tons per year. Both are detrimental to mangrove growth and as a result, the surviving Indus Delta mangroves are sparse and stunted.
“Forest Department has, proposed a massive afforestation programme under Pakistan Vision 2025 and 11th Five Year Plan (2013-2018) with the financial outlay of Rs7,000 million comprising 22 development schemes to combat the situation and working with NGOs and INGOs including WWF-Pakistan in Pai forest and IUCN Pakistan on development scheme titled ‘Possible role of mangroves in curbing sea intrusion in Indus Delta’. told Divisional Forest Officer, Amjad Ali Shah.

Mahmood Akhter Cheema, Country Representative, IUCN Pakistan predicts that with a rising sea level, the low lying areas are likely to get submerged and sea line expected to move further inland resulting in flooding and loss of productive land due to seawater ingress as well as damage to the community settlements. This may also cause displacement of communities and their eventual mass migration in search of livelihood.

In his opinion mangroves act as a buffer against extreme events and help in the better protection of coastal communities against sea storms and wave action. “IUCN has therefore since 1987 been working to address coastal issues and as part of that large objective, it has planted 2.3 million saplings over thousands of hectares since 1987, along the coast of Sindh.” he highlighted.

He believes that Sea level rise is a global phenomenon, which cannot be mitigated locally. He suggests that, at the local level, adaptation to climate change impacts is the most appropriate option for countries like Pakistan.

Ali Dehlavi, Senior Manager, Building Capacity on Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal Areas of Pakistan (CCAP) project of WWF-Pakistan, told that mangroves act as defense line against soil erosion and sea level rise. “WWF-Pakistan under different projects has planted mangroves over 7,500 hectares of land in Thatta district. Spotlighting the importance of river flow as a solution to reduce sea level rise he told that, WWF-Pakistan advocates for release of required flow of water downstream Kotri which is necessary for reducing sea intrusion and sea level rise.” he told.

“There is an immediate urgency for inhabitants of the Indus Delta to build their capacity to absorb and rebound from these shocks.” told Dehlavi “If measures to adapt are not taken, soon the delta will be deemed unlivable and there will be an increased chance of large scale migrations to occur.” he concluded.

Though some efforts are being made by the government and national and international NGOs but more needs to be done to save Indus Delta and its population. Protective and preventive measures including restoration of environmental flow in River Indus, rehabilitation of ecosystem and effective adaptation strategies at enhanced level are necessary to prevent further destruction in coastal areas of the delta.

Rashid Ali Panhwer is a mid-career journalist based in Karachi. He tweets @Reporter247

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  1. Wonderful story. Great information on impacts of sea level rise and preventive plus mitigation measures. Enjoyed reading. Keep publishing such stories.

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