August 13, 2020

 By Shaukat Korai


KARACHI: Ibrahim Haidari is a major fishing village near Karachi. While the people here work as fishermen and women, the community is not a very happy one.

Apart from the hardships and extreme poverty they face, almost every other house in Ibrahim Haidari has lost a loved one to the sea.

One of the residents of the colony, Nazeer Ahmad lost his 14 year old son Muhammad Ramzan who met with an accident at sea and drowned just a few days before Eid-ul-Fitr this year. But Nazeer, his son could have been saved had it not been for the gross negligence of his employer.

“My son was drowning, but the owner of the boat merely stood by and watched; he did not even bother to throw him a rope,” said Nazeer. “I believe my son could have easily survived if his employer had even an iota of empathy in him.”

In yet another incident at sea, Muhammad Musa, another fisherman living at Ibrahim Haideri lost his boat. Musa was completely dependent on his boat for his livelihood. Now that his boat is gone, he is to survive by working as a daily wage laborer. Musa, like Nazeer’s son, did not get timely help. If he had, he could have saved his boat and his livelihood.

“We were very close to the coastline when suddenly, a giant wave swept my boat away. The fishing boats nearby helped us, and the people survived, but my boat was lost”, laments Musa.

Pakistan has a very long coastal line extending to about 990 kilometers. Most of the people who live along this coastline are associated with fishing one way or another. According to Muhammad Ali Shah, the Chairman of the Pakistan fisherfolk forum, there are anywhere between 0.8 to 0.9 million people associated with the fishing profession in Pakistan.

However there no dedicated rescue services for these people. The absence of these emergency services means that if there is an accident at sea, the fisherfolk are on their own. This is resulting in an avoidable loss of life and livelihood in the community.

“If a fisherman meets an accident at sea, no government authority will come to his aid because none exists,” says Muhammad Ali shah.

According to a recent report published by the International Union for conservation (ICUN), the Pakistani fishing industry racks in approximately one billion Rupees a year. Every year Pakistan exports fish worth 20 crore dollars, benefitting the national economy.

Muhammad Ali shah says that these fishermen are bringing in revenue to the national economy the government should realize the importance of their profession and make arrangements accordingly. He demands that the government set up a dedicated rescue body equipped with the latest technology, including speed boats and a helicopter so that the lives of fishers can be preserved.

“The government should identify the main fishing areas of the country, such as Karachi, Keti Bandar, etc. and set up rescue centers in these areas. Protecting our lives is one of the basic responsibilities of the state,” explains Muhammad Ali.

In the 1990s, the Sindh government set up a coastal development authority to facilitate the fishermen, but this authority turned out to be a failed experiment. According to Muhammad Aslam Ghauri, Director General of the Sindh coastal development authorities, even though there is no rescue service for the fishermen, plans are being made to establish one in the next financial budget.

“I completely agree with the demand for a rescue service, and I think we must have one. In addition to rescue centers, all the major coasts do not have storage facilities either. We are working with the government to build both rescue centers for the fishermen and storage facilities for the catch,” he says.

Meanwhile, Abdul Sattar, who has been fishing in the open-sea since ages says that if any of them get stuck in the sea, they can only rely on God alone. He too echoes the fishermen’s demand for proper rescue services.