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Pakistan: Climate change threatens financial capital

Karachi threatened by rising seas and storms as coastal islands succumb to erosion.

The local fishing community understood that a project of this sort would essentially evict them from the waters — their livelihood. They bandied around Zubaida Birwani, an activist who has worked over several years to stand up for the people of Ibrahim Hyderi and Rehri.

Her organization, Pakistan Mahigiri Tehrik, launched a massive campaign against the development. They demanded that Pakistanis pay attention to the more urgent needs of their community’s survival and the area’s once-rich mangrove eco-system.

By 2007, EMAAR quietly bowed out of the agreement, and Buddo and Bundal returned to their previous state of anonymity.

On one trawler that works around Buddo and Bundal, Mohammad Ishaq brought his nephew, Abid, along to help. At 17, he quit school a few years ago and his uncle was livid.

“I beat him up to try and knock some sense into his head,” he said. “This is not the sort of life we imagine for our children.”

Abid, however, seems unfazed. His face is still unaffected by a short career out on sea. He gazes out into the distance, his concentration centered on a wad of tobacco in his mouth, a constant fixture that has stained his teeth and makes any conversation difficult.

“It’s fine,” he mumbles. “I’m happier here on the water than in the classroom.”

He’s blithely ignorant of the woes that Birwani and her team are trying to avoid. If a development project does go through on the islands, this community’s access to the waters — and to their livelihood — will be cut off. Moreover, the island holds religious significance.

Fishermen and their families regularly visit the shrine of Yusuf Shah, a Sufi saint who is buried on the island and is a sort of a patron saint for the fishing community. Once every year, families from across Ibrahim Hyderi and Rehri, as well as other parts of Pakistan, flock to the island for a special pilgrimage.

“We had another Sufi saint buried on the mainland,” Birwani said. “But the Pakistan Air Force built a base and took over the land where the shrine was, so we could not visit the shrine any more. Yusuf Shah’s shrine is our last remaining spiritual place.”

Saleh Mohammad knows that they are the weaker force in this fight against overdevelopment and climate change. Still, he says they are up for another battle, and several more if necessary.

“Their eyes are still on these islands. They will return again for sure. And when they come we will be ready for them,” he said.