Fighting Floods And Diseases With Precious Livestock, Herders Return From Indus-Kohistan To Destroyed Lives

Fighting Floods And Diseases With Precious Livestock, Herders Return From Indus-Kohistan To Destroyed Lives
In scorching heat, beneath the shadow of the acacia tree, Lakhano Mangsi is sitting, carrying a water bottle on his shoulder strap and a herding stick in his hand. Tired due to his old age, he is taking a rest and in the distance, his cows are mooing and grazing. "When monsoon rains start, we happily come here. But this time we are not happy. We came because our homes were flooded," says Mangsi with a sad voice. “One cow and four acres of cultivated rice all have been lost, and I sold one cow for 50,000 only – that was half of the price. But compulsion made us do so.”

Lakhano was a resident of Belo, a remote area which is around 25 km from Thatta, Sindh. After the torrential rains, Lakhano along with his family and livestock travelled approximately 60 km to a mountainous area called Indus-Kohistan.

It is a hilly tract consisting of outlying spurs of the Kirthar Range in the west of Sindh. When the monsoon rains start in June, herders move to the Indus-Kohistan, which spreads over a vast area from Jhampir to Thano-Bula-Khan. Herders from Thatta, Badin, Sujawal, Jamshoro and other areas of Sindh go to these hilly tracts and remain there for almost three months, as rains bring water and grow grass and shrubs for animals.

Shabir Chandio, sitting near a petrol pump, while awaiting his fellow herders. (Image Credits: author)

This time was different and terrible for them – as those who had already left after the first spells of rains found their homes and villages were flooded while they were on the mountains. And others joined them after the harsh rains and floods displaced them. Lakhano was one of those who joined later.

He had 25 cows and buffaloes, and 12 family members who were living in hand-made tents and huts under open sky near Jhampir. “There are no facilities here. We are also flood-affected. But we don’t get here anything. We sell milk; a Suzuki comes and takes milk from us. One liter of milk was 60 rupees but now the milk supply is also decreasing as the livestock is getting diseases here. When will our villages be de-watered so that we return?”

Having raised the question he becomes silent for a while, and from very far, the sound of cowbells can be heard. He says, “The cows might go away far.”

And he leaves.

Gul Hassan Shoro shares the same situation. He along with his two sons left his village around 60 days ago. It took them three days and three nights, with eight cows, to reach nearby areas of Nooriabad – and that is approximately 110 km away from his village near Baghar Mori, Thatta. “Who knows if I have eaten anything or not? Can you tell me how hungry I am or can you tell me what is in my stomach? What sorrows might I tell you? Here, it is only poverty and separation,” Gul said with emotions. “My family is at the embankment, and I am here. What would we have done, if we didn’t leave? Mosquitoes would have killed our animals. If not them, then diseases and starvation. Diseases are also spreading here very fast.”

He says that it was not easy to leave homes and stay for months outside in the mountains where there were no facilities available and where you knew nobody.

Loss of livestock

Livestock is a crucial sub-sector of agriculture and small-scale farmers mainly depend on it in rural areas. According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Sindh, some 436,409 heads of livestock have perished. Cattle pens and other livestock infrastructure worth many billions of rupees have been destroyed. This may be digits, facts and figures to many – but not for livestock farmers. For them, livestock is like their own children: they feed, care and nurture them. For them, livestock is an asset and a source of income.
“We came here in the floods of 2010, 2015 and now in 2022, but this time it was very bad. Our homes and crops were all under water. My two acres of cotton was also ravaged. We sold animals on very cheap prices for transport to save other livestock"

According to Tameezuddin Khero, Secretary Livestock and Fisheries Government of Sindh, some 20 million out of Sindh’s 50 million livestock is stranded in flood-stricken areas. Stagnant flood waters have been causing diseases, and a shortage of fodder is killing animals from starvation.

Buffaloes drinking water from a pond filled after the rains

Dr. Nizam Jamali, who is Deputy Director of Livestock and Animal Husbandry for District Jamshoro, says that floods have been fatal for human-beings as well as for livestock. When livestock is displaced, it gets stressed due to lack of fresh water and fodder: the animals’ immunity levels are decreased and they became easily vulnerable to various seasonal diseases after the monsoon rains. Moreover, the movement of livestock on such a scale causes them to carry diseases over larger distances, which easily spread to other animals.

“Indus-Kohistan is not in my jurisdiction, but I have been visiting those areas, and it is typical in a sense as roads are not good, and we lack easy access to certain areas. These areas were not directly affected due to floods, as they are at a height and grass is plentiful. There is one problem: seasonal diseases do spread there and one of the main reasons is that we have immense shortage of technical staff. Cure is expensive and poor farmers can’t afford it, so the best solution is vaccination. On a priority basis, animals should be vaccinated, as these are main solutions for food security and malnutrition.”

A dead cow (Image Credits: author)

Meer Hassan Palari is a permanent resident of the village Dil Murad Palari, Taluka Jhampir, where there are around 20 houses with around 80 cows and 150 sheep. “Almost three hours have passed, but these animals have not moved far from the village, as they have become very weak. We have lost 15 cows and 20 sheep due to diseases and there is no one who can help us. Foot and Mouth Disease has ravaged us. Do you see bones coming out of the animals?” He adds, “We are living under the shade of these Wind Power-Plants but we don’t have electricity here, neither have we had any school or hospital.”

“We came here in the floods of 2010, 2015 and now in 2022, but this time it was very bad. Our homes and crops were all under water. My two acres of cotton was also ravaged. We sold animals on very cheap prices for transport to save other livestock. We hired three trucks and each truck cost 50,000,” says Abdul Hakeem Khaskheli who came with other villagers and relatives from a village Chanesar Khaskheli near Tando Adam, to the Nooriabad area. “We men have come here, and our families are on lower ground. It has been almost 30 days here and four animals have died due to diseases. One was of a very great breed: she was pregnant as well. But we have received no help from the government, and we are living under open sky.”

Khalil Kumbhar, a writer and poet who has written books on nomadic tribes, says, “Whenever a flood or any natural disaster occurs, it straightaway hits agriculture and livestock. Now, in livestock, the mortality rate surges, and its price plunges with great intensity. For example, anything which was being sold at 200,000 rupees, after the rain, its price nosedives to 50,000. For one who rears livestock, it is the only asset they have – taking it away escalates poverty. Another aspect of the loss is cultural: after all, livestock is part of the culture of anyone from a rural area.”

He further says, “Until livestock rearing is brought in line with market conditions and remains linked to its traditional methods, it may not bear much fruit. Like in Kohistan, herders face a lot of hurdles, as they cannot sell milk easily to the markets and they sell it at cheap prices. The same applies to the sale of livestock itself. If we compare Kohistan, Kacho, the coastal belt and Tharparkar, there is a huge difference between them. For instance, in Tharparkar, even though the water to be found is brackish, at least is available. For that, the government has put up more than 7-800 filter plants in that area to tackle this issue. Electricity is also accessible to the villages in Tharparkar. However, in my opinion and according to my perception, people's life in Kohistan, the coastal belt or Kacho is tough and onerous. There is no availability of irrigation or access to the river in Kohistan and facilities for living are very scarce.”

“Though these herders don’t fall into any category of gypsies, their life is tougher than that of the gypsies. When gypsies migrate, they move with families and children, but herders mostly go alone with their livestock.”


Herders come back

The sun has set and dozens of cows are walking on the main road of Hashim Abad Housing Society, Makli. On both sides of the roads are lights coming from shopping malls, fast food restaurants and huge buildings. Drivers in luxurious cars are irritated by the animals blocking the road. Along with the cowbells, there are continuous honks from cars. I start walking along-with them, asking a herder named Shabir Chandio if I could join him. And he replies laughingly, “You are an urban young boy! How will you come with us in forests and darkness?”

We keep on walking for almost half a kilometre – then his mobile rings and he says to another herder who was following him that he would wait for him at N3 Petrol Pump near Ghulam Mullah Road. We reach the petrol pump and sit by the side of the road with the cows.

He tells me that after the rains, their homes and crops were damaged and he left, along with 12 cows, for Kohistan. He stayed there more than 70 days, grazing the cows and now it was the second night of his returning back to their village Jhando Chandio which was situated in Gharho.

“I took two acres of land for cultivating rice on a quarter of the profit. Expenses were of the owner and labour was mine from cultivation to harvesting. Rain flooded the rice and around three months of my labour flowed away with the water.” It is tough for him to share personal painful traumas.

He continues, “Even these cows are not mine. These are of my brother. As there was no grass and everywhere there were mosquitoes, my brother asked me to take them to the mountain on behalf of him, while he provided food to my three daughters, wife and I. So because of hunger, I went to the mountains. Otherwise, who leaves their homes and villages to live in unknown places? Now, I am returning, and I don’t know how I will earn tomorrow.”

After a month, he is missing his family greatly, and his brother just gave him the amount with which he could barely reach home.

When he reaches home, his little daughters are very happy. They start dancing and jumping, asking him for pocket money. He doesn’t have a penny in his pocket.

I ask him, “You are coming back. Do you have anything for your daughters now?”

He looks into my eyes and slowly turns them down, towards the earth.

Zuhaib Ahmed Pirzada is a freelance journalist who writes on climate, politics, fascism, patriarchy and capitalism. He tweets at @zuhaib_pirzada