Remembering May 19, 1999

By Kamran Khamiso Khowaja | May 2022

19 May 1999 can be referred to as the most horrific and awful day for the fisherfolk of the coastal areas of district Thatta Badin and Sujawal. On this day, both districts were battered by the cyclone that devastated almost everything across the coastal region. The calamity was so sudden that people could not take precautionary measures to save their lives and the lives of their near ones.

The residents of these areas who saw the frightening scenes revealed that the national media, as well as the concerned department, were utterly unaware of such a massive catastrophe that not only changed the demography of the region but also the fate of the coastal population. Before this haunting calamity, the people of the Jati coastline were well settled and happy relying on fishing, agriculture, and livestock as their source of income but the OA2 cyclone that hit the coastal area on the night of 19 and 20 May 1999 wiped out each and everything.

23 years have passed but the people of these areas could not come out of the traumas inflicted on them by that cyclone.

Few locals sharing their ghastly experience about the devastation of the cyclone said that when the winds started blowing late at night they had never thought that it would wreak long-standing havoc in their area. "We were left at the mercy of no one except Almighty since no prior warning was issued by the Government many of us were either in the high sea or in their straw and mud made houses that were carried away by high-velocity winds," said Noor Muhammad Themore adding that almost all male inhabitants of Village Abdul Rahman Dandal perished who went fishing in the sea.

The overall loss of 439 human lives, 15,000 houses, more than 1,800,000 acres of agricultural land )(which is still uncultivable) and countless livestock are added to the tragedy of around 300 missing fishermen who were at sea that day. Mahi Soomri of the same village lost all male members of her family including two sons, sons-in-law, and two brothers but she still believes that they will return one day. Visually Impaired Aroo Badai also thinks that his four sons who tripped and fell prey to cruel tides of the sea are still alive and languishing in Indian jails.

The same goes with the sisters of Ghulam Hussain, Abdullah, and Ibrahim in village Loung Abro who were in their vessel on that day in the middle of the sea, have woven quilts, and are dreaming to unfold those quilts on the marriage of their brothers. Senior Journalist Haji Zahid Sommro who covered post-cyclone incidents and had also compiled a book on it said that the federal and provincial governments were not ready to believe that such large scale devastation had taken place in the aftermath of the cyclone but then local journalists played an active part in taking these painful stories to the National and then international media. There were 4 freshwater lakes in the region but following the advancement of the sea saline water penetrated those rivers and now there were no more freshwater lakes; he said Around two decades have passed since that throbbing calamity but no government has ever turned up to work for the development of the coastal population.

It seems that their sufferings are yet to end.