Noori Tales: Stories from the Indus Delta

Noori Jam Tamachi is a legendary figure in Thatta, Pakistan. The traditional tale describes her as a fisherwoman from Keenjhar Lake who married a local prince. Famed for her intelligence and admired for her kindness, Noori (“shining light” in Urdu) is buried in the middle of the lake, where there is now a shrine. Her enduring spirit can be seen as a beacon for the children who live in the region. 

In a collaboration with WaterAid I travelled to the Thatta region in southeastern Pakistan to document the effects of climate change and water scarcity on the lives of schoolchildren living in the Indus River Delta. Pakistan is highly vulnerable to climate change due to its geography, high dependence on agriculture and limited water resources. Flooding, salinisation of groundwater and high temperatures are all on the increase, with potentially devastating consequences.

This was a journey through the canals and inlets of the Indus River Delta, as they flow from one of Pakistan’s largest and most beautiful lakes, the Keenjhar – the source of drinking water for Karachi’s 16.6 million inhabitants – through to the schools and communities in the region.

This collaboration resulted in an outside exhibition that was on display in Kungsträdgården, Stockholm, Sweden 15 August – 4 September 2016 

Keenjhar Lake in Thatta is a reservoir that serves the city of Karachi's 16.6 million inhabitant

Keenjhar Lake in Thatta is a reservoir that serves the city of Karachi's 16.6 million inhabitant

Women carrying water from the canal in Noor Muhammad Thaheem. 

Women carrying water from the canal in Noor Muhammad Thaheem. 

A woman in Noor Muhammad Thaheem harvests plants for livestock. People used to grow crops here for human consumption, but with seawater seeping into the land due to changes in climate, the soil has become too saline to grow food.

A woman in Noor Muhammad Thaheem harvests plants for livestock. People used to grow crops here for human consumption, but with seawater seeping into the land due to changes in climate, the soil has become too saline to grow food.

Students in the coastal fishing community of Haji Karfoor Jat gather for lessons in the shade outside their schoolhouse, which is collapsing due to erosion caused by saline groundwater. Temperatures here can exceed 45 °C in peak summer.

Students in the coastal fishing community of Haji Karfoor Jat gather for lessons in the shade outside their schoolhouse, which is collapsing due to erosion caused by saline groundwater. Temperatures here can exceed 45 °C in peak summer.

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A woman in the water-poor village of Noor Muhammad Thaheem uses sand to wipe her dishes. 

A woman in the water-poor village of Noor Muhammad Thaheem uses sand to wipe her dishes. 

Women collect water in traditional terracotta pots from the open canal in Noor Muhammad Thaheem. The canal transports drinking water from Keenjhar Lake to Karachi, however the local government will not allow the village residents to connect a pipe from the canal to their community, because they fear that the water supply to Karachi, which already suffers water shortages, will be reduced. 

Women collect water in traditional terracotta pots from the open canal in Noor Muhammad Thaheem. The canal transports drinking water from Keenjhar Lake to Karachi, however the local government will not allow the village residents to connect a pipe from the canal to their community, because they fear that the water supply to Karachi, which already suffers water shortages, will be reduced. 

11-year-old Shaneela

11-year-old Shaneela

Pupils await the start of lessons at the Government Girls Primary School in Chaudhry Atta Muhammad. 

Pupils await the start of lessons at the Government Girls Primary School in Chaudhry Atta Muhammad. 

18-year-old Rozina

18-year-old Rozina

The open canal that carries drinking water from Keenjhar Lake to the city of Karachi.

The open canal that carries drinking water from Keenjhar Lake to the city of Karachi.

A boy climbs out of the canal after a swim in Noor Muhammad Thaheem. The canal is the only source of non-saline water accessible to villagers for their homes. This untreated water is used for bathing as well as cooking and drinking. 

A boy climbs out of the canal after a swim in Noor Muhammad Thaheem. The canal is the only source of non-saline water accessible to villagers for their homes. This untreated water is used for bathing as well as cooking and drinking. 

A shrine to the legendary queen Noori Jam Tamachi on an island in the middle of Keenjhar Lake. Noori was said to have been born in a humble fishing community on the shores of the lake.  

A shrine to the legendary queen Noori Jam Tamachi on an island in the middle of Keenjhar Lake. Noori was said to have been born in a humble fishing community on the shores of the lake.  

Women and girls doing the washing in a salinated rivulet in Noor Muhammad Thaheem.

Women and girls doing the washing in a salinated rivulet in Noor Muhammad Thaheem.