Environmentalists in Pakistan are worried over the gradual decline in the number of some camel species unique to the region. Sea intrusion in the Indus delta and the depletion of the mangrove forests are playing havoc with biodiversity, they warn.
Also the coastal species require sweet water for survival, but the flow from the neighbouring provinces has also dried up, compounding the woes of the region.
The Kharai camel or Indus deltaic camel is an indigenous breed. The one-humped variety is considered an iconic symbolic of the Sindh province.
Of the four major breeds found in Sindh, it is the Kharai camel that has the capability to survive difficult environmental conditions. It has remained the first preference of the natives for centuries. It is also used in racing in the Gulf countries.
But the breed could be vanishing slowly because of the indifferent attitude of the authorities. The country could also be poised to learn of the much-need foreign exchange that could be earned through the export of the Kharai camels, Dawn reports.
Kharai breed derives its name from Kharochhan meaning salt water swamps. In Sindhi language the word "Khao" means saltish. Khara or Kharo tract is a coastal zone of the Arabian Sea forming southern belt of Sindh.
Masood Ahmed Lohar, national coordinator GEF (Global Environment Facility) SGP (Small Grants Programme) UNDP, who has launched conservation and promotion of Kharai camels from coastal town Shah Bandar in collaboration with an NGO, Shah Bandar Development Society, said that deltaic population was dependent on its biodiversity and environment for their survival.
He said that 1.3 million population of district Thatta was usually considered to be a disadvantaged group in terms of income and public service facilities and the district was ranked the second least developed district of Sindh in terms of living conditions.
He said that Shah Bandar was once the hub of the threatened breed of Kharai camel. Established in 1759 by Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro, Shah Bandar played an important role in the socioeconomic uplift of this area and was a seaport but the earthquake of 1819 destroyed it and it could not be rehabilitated again.
The population of Kharai camels is shrinking due to scarce grazing resources. Lack of food undermines the nutritional status of camel herd, making it vulnerable to disease and negativity affecting reproductive rate. Camels currently represent a typical 'orphan commodity,' but for whose survival no public institution or agency feels responsible.
The conservation agencies and the forest department seem mainly interested in wildlife and often appear antagonistic towards camels, deeming them a threat to vegetation.
Local experts said that some 3,500 people and their families owned camel-drawn carts and made their living by providing short and medium distance transportation in big cities, in remote desert areas and in the hilly terrains of Kohistan range of the Thatta district. The camels are also used for drawing water from wells and ploughing lands.
The survival and promotion of camels as well as other livestock including buffaloes, fish and shrimps are a must for the survival of the Indus delta.
Humera Alwani, a legislator representing the coastal constituency, told Dawn that Thatta district's Jatt community was predominantly engaged in camel breeding. She said that due to increased sea intrusion in delta, grazing points and agricultural land had vanished.
Consequently the economy of the coastal area, heavily dependent on livestock, has almost collapsed, triggering a mass exodus of people.
The rehabilitation of Indus delta requires both short term and long term actions.