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Climate Anxiety Grips Fishers in Pakistan

This photo essay was originally published by Al Jazeera in October 2022.

Pir Bhakkar, Sindh – Fishing is the centre of Muhammad Kasim’s life. For generations, his family has fished near the Indus River. However, the recent floods in Pakistan have turned his village Pir Bhakkar into a swamp. His lifelong profession and source of income for his large family is now in jeopardy until waters recede and ecological balance is restored.

Unprecedented floods have impacted the livelihoods of millions of people across Pakistan, destroying crops and livestock, including fish, two primary sources of income for rural households. The key source of income for many people in Sindh, the USD 650 million fishing industry faces an uncertain future. The extreme rainfall that created these floods may very well be the new normal as climate change super-charges weather patterns.

Rural fishers like Kasim do not have it easy. The lakes and ponds are often “owned” by landlords, who require local fishers to pay a fee to catch fish. Other landlords pay fishers a daily wage to catch fish which they keep and sell themselves.

Kasim lives within a 10-kilometre radius of a pond and three canals and is 20 kilometres away from the River Indus. When the floods hit his village, locals eager to catch fish without paying landlords set up fishing nets in the flooded areas. However, their efforts were in vain as fish from ponds, lakes, and rivers quickly spilled over the nets and disappeared in the floods. 

Income from fishing heavily depends on the season. As the floods struck during peak fishing season, local fishers will have to seek other options to put food on the table this year.

Monsoon season in rural Pakistan is typically welcomed with joy but this time many fear the next rains. They are suffering from what could best be described as “climate anxiety” – a term that hasn’t been translated into Sindhi yet.

Kasim worries his son will be forced to abandon the family’s long tradition as fishers.

Management of resources and environmental degradation, amidst climate change, present further challenges. Decades of overfishing in the Indus River has depleted fish stock, causing the Government of Punjab to introduce a ten-year ban on commercial fishing on the Indus River earlier this year (in reference to 2022). Despite this, illegal fishing continues. Last week (in reference to September 2022), the Government of Pakistan launched the “Living Indus” initiative to restore the river’s ecosystem, so the Indus basin can become resilient to climate change.