As the River King wills

Sarfaraz Memon offers a glimpse of life in Sindh's riverine communities, where people live with the prospect of floods every year

As the River King wills
The memories of the super flood of 2010 still haunt the people living near the protective embankments of the mighty river Indus. That was the year when the Indus spilled out of the embankments and wreaked havoc throughout Upper Sindh and some parts of Lower Sindh and Balochistan, due to which millions of people were rendered homeless. Moreover, hundreds of precious human lives, households and heads of cattle were lost.

Obviously, people living in the katcha (riverine) areas were equally affected, but perhaps the situation was not so new for them, as they often lose their homes during flooding. According to official figures, around 2.5 million people live in the riverine area from Kashmore to Hyderabad, mostly dependent upon agriculture and cattle-herding. The people living in the katcha area are well versed with the behaviour of the Indus and so they are able to move to safer places well in time, to avoid losses.

People evacuate the katcha area along the Indus in Sindh during floods

Even currently, the water level in the Indus is rising, but it is not nearly asa alarming for the people living in the katcha areas. At some places the bed of the river is spread over ten to twelve kilometers, while at some places it is not more than two or three kilometers. Some of the villages which are established on comparatively lower ground are inundated when the water level in the Indus crosses the 400,000-cusec mark. When the water level goes up to 600,000 cusecs, the villages established on higher ground also come under water.

As we visited some villages inside the Qadirpur loop bund near Ghotki, we find that the water is still far away from most of the villages. In fact, according to the villagers, 250,000 cusecs of water pose no threat to the residents. However, in the village of Chachar the villagers have constructed a ten- to twelve-feet-high platform with the help of bamboo and wooden planks, where they will move their stock of grain and other valuables in case of flooding.

Haji Mohammad Siddiq took us round the village, which consists of around 100 houses and a mosque. “Flooding brings miseries for us, but it also brings valuable sediments, which are necessary for our land, as it becomes more fertile after floods”, he says. “In katcha we sow wheat and various vegetables, and as compared to the agriculture land in the pacca, the people of katcha reap a bumper crop of wheat, due to the fertile land. As you can see, we mostly depend upon agriculture and cattle. We sell the milk of buffaloes and cows in the nearby towns, besides supplying vegetables to the local market.”

Another villager Wakeel Chachar tells me about the low level of development in the area: “We do not have a primary school in our village, and so most of our children are illiterate. We don’t have health facilities either, due to which we have to rush to the health facilities in nearby towns in case of emergency. Earlier, electricity was supplied to us at times, but it mostly remained suspended due to one reason or the other. Now we have switched over to a solar power system and are leading a comfortable life.”

There are primary schools in some of the villages like Raza Goth, situated in the katcha near Pano Akil. Girls are not allowed to study beyond class five, while the boys go to a secondary school in Pano Akil. Rehmatullah Chachar, a resident of Raza Goth, was born in this village and is dependent upon the agricultural land left by his forefathers. Once, this village was notorious for the presence of robbers (dacoits). But after a cleanup operation by the authorities, most of the hardened dacoits were killed or arrested, while some of them went underground. According to him, the people of the katcha are playing a vital role in supplying the best wheat and vegetables, but in return they are getting few of the amenities of modern life.

The Indus was traditionally personified as the figure of Jhule Lal

“Cases of snakebite are quite common in our area, but the health facilities in the nearby towns are often short of vaccines and thus many precious lives are lost every year,” he says. “Most of the land in the katcha is occupied by influential people and the poor people living in the katcha work as peasants on their land. We are living in the katcha since the time of our forefathers and therefore we are the rightful owners of the land, but there is not much we can do about it in the face of powerful people.”

Floods bring with them an almost regular rhythm of destruction and reconstruction.

“After every two or three years, we have to move to the embankment due to flooding,” he continues. “And then our houses collapse and we have to reconstruct them. However, we are thankful for the solar power system, which has proved a blessing for us. Earlier when we were dependent upon electricity provided by the state, it had become something of a curse for us. The officials often used to visit our villages and demanded bribes and when they were denied, they used to cut off the supply of electricity to the villages for days on end. Now we don’t need it anymore!”

Elderly Mai Kariman owns a big herd of cows and goats and earns a fair amount of money by selling their milk.

“In the katcha we have good grazing grounds for the animals, due to which we get better milk, in quality and quantity both, as compared to those living in the pacca areas,” she says. “We supply pure milk in the nearby towns for Rs. 50 per litre and the shopkeepers add water into it and sell it for Rs. 90 or Rs. 100 per litre. I have never sold butter in the market, because we consume it at home. We are leading a peaceful life in the katcha and no one bothers us, except the mighty Indus, which sometimes becomes angry and floods our villages!”

Khadim Chachar is also a resident of this village and works on agricultural land belonging to an influential of Pano Akil. He is confident – but with reservations, of course:

“I don’t think this year the water level is going to rise beyond 350,000 cusecs,” he predicts, “because little rainfall, if any at all, is taking place in the catchment areas.”

He pauses and then adds: “But you never know when Darya Badshah’s [River King’s] mood might change. So we have made the necessary arrangements – just in case!”

Sarfaraz Memon is a freelance journalist. He may be reached at