Here is the tale of the final stage before the probable demise of people whose history goes back five thousand years, the tale of their traditions and recollections from the past. The Mohana, also known as the bird people or lords of the sea, are descendants of the first inhabitants of the Indus valley; the remains of the original settlement can be seen at the archeological site of Mohenjo-daro which once stood on the banks of the Indus. Here in the Sindh region of southern Pakistan, a tiny Mohana community still lives in the one remaining floating village on Lake Manchar. What was once a fishing paradise is now contaminated by toxic industrial waste discharged into the waters of the vast lake, as large as an inland sea. My photographs are a record of the end of the paradise on earth where humans and nature have been living in harmony for thousands of years.
I have been reporting on Pakistan since 2007, and since 2018 have been spending six months of the year working for extended periods on stories related to threats to the environment. In Pakistan I heard of this extraordinary community and their traditional lifestyle. It was difficult to gain access to these people facing extinction, and special logistical arrangements were needed to reach the remote area. An opportunity arose through Le Figaro Magazine which had already published a story on the bird people in 1992. My goal was to report on and review the situation thirty years on, and to convey the message from these forgotten people. In the Sindh, on Lake Manchar, the encounter with the nomads living in the last floating village had a profound impact on me. Their plight was far worse than I could ever have imagined. Local flora and fauna were being destroyed by toxic industrial waste flowing along a canal and into the lake. The catch that Mohana fishermen once brought in to sell at markets in the region is now only a fraction of what it once was. Dozens of fish species have disappeared, meaning that there are fewer migratory and other birds that follow the Mohana fishing boats. The loss of biodiversity has jeopardized the natural ecological balance. Men, women and children have had to cope with frequent food shortages and dramatic flooding; they have become weaker, often falling victim to malaria and tuberculosis. Having lost the resources that came from fishing, the nomads have often had to abandon their traditional lifestyle on the water in houseboats, and have settled as sedentary communities on the shore, forming villages of shelters made of mud and reeds. I was greatly troubled by the predicament of this unique community facing the all but inevitable prospect of their traditional way of life disappearing. Through my photographs I have aspired to draw attention to the tragedy of the Mohana people, and to elicit a response from local Pakistani policy-makers in a bid to halt this human and environmental crisis. Action must be taken – urgently – if the last of the historic Mohana people are to be saved.
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Cyril Drouhet, Deputy Director of Le Figaro Magazine, and to Caroline Laurent-Simon, the journalist on assignment with me.