Hailing from Siddique Roonjho village in Sindh, the 35-year-old manages a small smile, incongruous with the frown edged on his forehead; a young face deepened with early lines of stress.
Ali has lived his life on the water, hunting fish for his family since he was a teenager. His village is almost an island in the middle of the Indus River that provides livelihood for the entire village, but ironically there is not a drop for them to drink.
The village is nestled on the left bank of River Indus, in Taluka Kharo Chan of Sindh’s Thatta district. It is a five hour journey from Karachi and an hour long boat ride to the little hamlet. Aloof from the mainland, the village is physically cut off from land and surrounded by water on three sides.
The island itself is an arid plain. There is no electricity, no hospital, no school; no human contact for miles. The population of 140 own only two boats for fishing.
We migrated from Sokhi Bander near the Indus Delta years ago because there was no more fresh water available there. The land dried up. We only used to get salty water,” says 40-year-old Zulfiqar. “Our families settled here at Siddique Roonjho but now we are facing the same problem here.”
The sea’s intrusion into the Indus has caused hundreds of villagers living around the river’s creeks scrambling to find sweet water. Hoping to ease their plight, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan came up with a solution for the water shortage. A reservoir has been built to store fresh water from rain and the Indus Delta during the monsoon months.
“This system works because there are natural fresh water flows during from July to October, which lessens their dependency on rain. The stored water is then used for the next six months,” explains Muhammad Tahir Abbasi, site coordinator at WWF-Pakistan. “We have also installed bio-sand filters that reduce the impurity in the water by 40 to 55 per cent.
The women are quick to point out their most pressing difficulty: a lack of emergency facilities.
“In case of health emergencies, especially during childbirth complications, we have to go all the way to Ibrahim Hyderi which is more than seven hours away on the outskirts of Karachi,” says 65-year-old Asiya, who has never been stepped out of her village all her life.
The health conditions are indeed dismal but villagers do not actively try to overcome them either. It is hard to miss the eroding, discoloured teeth of all the women as they speak, their mouths constantly chewing ongutka. The women say they give the dangerous stimulant, known to cause severe health issues, to their children to stop them from crying.
“We have heard of cases in other villages about mouth cancer, we know it’s harmful but we are just not able to stop having it,” admits Asiya, other women solemnly nod in agreement.
It is painfully clear that the government has failed to better the lives of people in villages like this. The villagers share with an almost comical tenor how a politician, a certain Mr Tappi, had sent a generator in the village prior to the General Elections in 2013.