OA2 Cyclone: 24 Years On, Thatta, Sujawal Await Development

OA2 Cyclone: 24 Years On, Thatta, Sujawal Await Development
Though 24 years have passed, the wounds inflicted by the devastating OA2 cyclone on Thatta, Sujawal, and Badin districts are still fresh in the memory of the coastal population of the districts.

The calamity caused irreparable losses to the population of the coastline; at least 6,500 people belonging to the villages who had gone fishing in the high seas went missing and most of them were believed to be dead.

May 19, 1999 turned out to be the most horrific experience for the fisherfolk, who were battered by a cyclone that destroyed almost everything across the coastal region.

It is widely thought of as a reminder for changing the demographic and environmental features of the coastal areas of the country, mainly Sindh's coastline.

Before this devastating event, the people of the Jati coastline were well-settled, financially stable, and largely well, with fishing, agriculture, and livestock being their sources of income.

Since that fateful day, 24 years have passed but the people of these areas have not recovered from the ever-lasting trauma that they had experienced.

Read this too: Three Dams Envisaged For Thatta To Ward Off Floods

Sharing their awful memories about the devastation of the cyclone, locals said that when the wind started blowing late at night, they never thought that it would wreak havoc in their area. "We had never thought of confronting a prolonged downfall", said a fisherman belonging to a village of Jati who lost a near one to the frightening tides of the sea that turned cruel that very night.

The greenery of the deltaic region of Thatta and Sujawal was taken away by the gusty winds blowing at the speed of 195 to 200 kph and subsequent rainfall.

"Since that day, we have not seen the Indus delta regaining its lost glory", said senior journalist Zahid Ishaque Soomro who shared his views with this correspondent despite his ailment.

He also recalled the contributions of local and lesser known journalists of the districts who played a vital role in highlighting the situation of the affected areas at national and international level.

"The correspondents of BBC and other international news agencies had contacted us to gain knowledge about the statistics of the casualties caused by the cyclone," Soomro recalled.

Some of the other journalists who played a prominent role covering the stories, include Muhammad Iqbal Khuwaja, Mahboob Brohi, Yar Muhammad Jalalani, Khamiso Khowaja, Naseer Gopang, Hanif Zai, Nawaz Sheikh, Shakeel Naich, Saifullah Junejo.

With their stories, they were able to get the attention of the authorities who were treating the catastrophe as a routine disaster.

"We saw bodies stranded in thorny shrubs, some stuck in trees," recalled veteran journalist Muhammad Iqbal Khwaja.

He further said that the government was not ready to accept the magnitude of the calamity. "Making them realise the intensity of the situation was an uphill task for us".

Read this too: Eight Villages Submerge Under Sea Water in Thatta

Another journalist, Mahboob Brohi said that they hired boats to reach the troubled areas and captured the horrifying scenes.

Those images were later borrowed by different media groups of the country who initially were unaware of the scale of the devastation.

District Representative of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Noor Muhammad Themore revealed that despite the passage of more than two decades, the lifestyle of fisherfolk affected by the cyclone of 1999 could not be improved.

Then prime minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif announced to transform the most affected villages into model villages but these were mere announcements, despite several visits of his to the cyclone-hit areas".

Other governments, too also made tall claims as to the development of the coastal region but nothing considerable had been initiated in this regard, he added.

The expert further said that the worst-hit areas have witnessed a large-scale migration since the calamity.

Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum swung into action for the marooned fisherfolk and worked for their social and economic uplift without any recognisable assistance on the government's part.

Noted agronomist Obhayo Khushik warned about the threat of climate change, saying if measures for the environmental development of these areas, especially the deltaic region, were not taken, things would be more dreadful in case of another such natural disaster in the region.

The author is a practicing lawyer and freelance journalist. His areas of interest are cultural diversity and socio-political issues of Sindh.