The Sada Bahar [evergreen] fishing point in Badin earned its name due to the abundance of fish stock in the area. It may soon have to look for another name as fish population declines.
Close to the Sada Bahar fishing point is Momin Mallah village, which used to be considered as one of the richest in Badin district. Thousands of kilogrammes of fish and prawn were traded here every day as the local fishermen would collect their catch from the nearby Sada Bahar point where fish stock was abundant. If Sada Bahar loses its name, Momin Mallah villages loses its affluent status as well.
The village is located near Narreri Lagoon, one of the wetlands of international significance, which Pakistan has to protect as part of its signatory-status to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands signed in Iran in 1997. The village is about 30 kilometres from Badin city near the Arabian Sea. Before the cyclone hit this coastal belt in 1999, around 300 families were residing in this particular village. Soon after the cyclone, people started moving to other areas. Fishing was the only means of their survival and once it started to deplete, families had no other choice.
“Around 60 families are left in my village now,” the village elder, Momin Mallah told The Express Tribune. “The hunger took away all my people,” he sobbed, the elderly man hardly able to hide his emotions. His children are insisting he moves as well. “Where do we go?” he asked. “With whom can I share my pain?”
Mallah compared himself to a blind person stuck in a well. He said there is no way left. “We eat fish and we depend on fish. Our life and death is linked with fish.”
The fishing community lists three problems as the reason behind their destruction: the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD), sea intrusion and the use of forbidden fishing nets in fresh water canals and distributaries. Before the construction of the LBOD, the villagers remember a fisherman could earn at least Rs1,000 a day. Now, the waste water it brings from industrial and agricultural sources has significantly affected the fish population.
Mallah regrets how the only people visiting the village are the ones documenting its destruction. “Yes, politicians also visit when they need votes,” he pointed out bitterly. “There are no hospitals or schools and potable water is also in dearth.”
According to the project manager of Mandhar Development Society Abbas Khaskheli, the banned fishing nets are being used frequently, leading to the destruction of the fishing community living near the lagoon.
“We are working on the conservation of the fish and are trying to build the capacity of the local people,” said Khaskheli. “We are trying to convince the fishermen to stop trapping the smaller fish in freshwater bodies, distributaries and canals.”
According to Khaskheli, more than 80 per cent of the people living on the coastal belt depend on fishing directly or indirectly. “There was a natural friendship between the fish and the fishermen but the changing situation broke up this relationship,” he said.
Abu Bakar Shaikh who worked on the rehabilitation of the lagoon in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme-Global Environment Facility in 2010 also said that the only way to improve the situation was to convince people to stop using the forbidden fishing nets.
Khaskheli and his team are trying to train people in alternative sources of earning, such as repairing mobile phones and cooking. Around 40kgs of smaller fish are being sold out at Rs1,200. “If they [fishermen] conserve 40kg, they can earn Rs300,000 after four months,” he said.
Meanwhile, the village elder reminisces about the area’s lost glory. “Sometimes we don’t feed our children for three to four days,” he said. “I think some families will not even have vermicelli on Eid.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2014.