Edited  for the Linnean Society of London
Azra Meadows and Peter S. Meadows 

Published by Oxford University Press (Pakistan)

441 pages.

ISBN  0 19 577905 3

Price: £16.00

*The copyright of the following text lies
with Oxford University Press, the editors and the authors.

Proceedings of the 1994 Symposium held at the Linnean Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London.

© Photograph Copyright Azra and Peter Meadows.
Local fisherman casting fishing net in mangrove swamps of the Indus Delta, Sand Spit, Karachi. Note stand of mangrove trees in background.


The Indus River is one of the world's great rivers. It rises in the Himalayas, firstly flowing north westwards and then turning south to flow throughout the whole of Pakistan before entering the Arabian Sea via the Indus delta east of Karachi. During its journey, it flows through the dramatic mountain scenery of Gilgit and Jamshur and the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, and then across the fertile flood plains of the Punjab and arid desert regions of Sindh.

Equally important, the river and its impact on the surrounding countryside via its dams, barrages, and unique canal systems, affects the working conditions and living standards of virtually the entire population of Pakistan. There are already problems with deforestation, erosion, silting, waterlogging, salinization,  and desertification, and these will increase in the future.

Pakistan has a population of about 120 million which makes it one of the ten most highly populated countries in the world. Its population is likely to double within about 25 years, and so its population growth is also amongst the highest. These extremely high and rapidly increasing population levels are placing an ever increasing pressure on all of the environments within the catchment area of the river.

Much of the recent economic developments in Pakistan have centred on the direct or indirect use of  water from the river. In terms of energy requirements, for example, hydroelectric energy represents 15 percent of the country's needs and contributes about half of the electricity demand. The future development potential is in principle very high.

Indirect use of the water from the river is also of great importance to the economy of the country because it is also used in the production of non-commercial energy. Fuel wood, dung, and agricultural waste all of which are used as energy sources for cooking in urban and rural poor areas.

© Photograph Copyright Azra and Peter Meadows
Inshore fishing boats of the Indus Delta on the coast of Pakistan.


The scientific and academic establishments of the developed countries, with a few notable exceptions, are largely unaware of the extraordinary range of ecosystems, biodiversity, mineral resources, and demographic history of the unique system represented by the Indus River and its surrounding lands. This and the sociological implications of the dramatic growth of human populations along the river's length meant that an international symposium devoted to all aspects of the river was of great timeliness.

With this background, the Indus River Symposium, held at the Linnean Society of London in 1994  brought together international experts from developed and developing countries to assess for the first time our present state of knowledge about the way the Indus river system works and to develop new multidisciplinary approaches to the long term management of its resources. The symposium aimed to encourage discussion and dialogue on planned environmental management of the whole catchment area from a holistic point of view. This enabled future scenarios on enhanced resource development to be evaluated while at the same time protecting the unique biodiversity of the wide range of ecosystems along the river's length.

The papers presented at the symposium together with papers provided by contributors who could not attend, fell into three major sections.

1. Biodiversity, environmental conservation and management,  and living resources
2. Hydrology, geomorphology and geology of past and present   environments
3. Archaeology, prehistory and anthropology of sites of human habitation

The informal discussions at the end of the papers presented at the symposium are included.
Recommendations are included at the end of the symposium volume.


There is now a global interest in environmental conservation and management and the preservation of the world's biodiversity. There are many endangered ecosystems and rare species in and along the Indus and its tributaries. Man also makes considerable use of the environment for forestry, agriculture, fisheries and fish farming. There is hence considerable interest in both the natural and modified populations of animals and plants and their habitats, particularly in relation to pollution.

The Wildlife of the Indus River and  Allied Areas
By Mohammad Farooq Ahmad.
Mohammad Farooq Ahmad addresses the topic of biodiversity of the River Indus with special reference to the Indus Dolphin and its adaptation to the river ecosystem. Farooq Ahmad emphasises the unique nature of the animal and plant communities along the Indus, and the global importance of the flyway for migrating waterfowl.

Animal and Plant Communities of the Present and Former Indus Delta
By Muzammil Ahmed.
Muzammil Ahmed compares the abundance and distribution of the marine fauna and flora of the present Indus delta located near Keti Bundar with the old delta near Karachi and relates this to natural and man-induced changes in the environment. 

The Mangrove Communities of the Karachi, Present Status and Future Prospects
By Andrew Campbell.
Andrew Campbell provides an analysis of the threatened mangrove communities in the Karachi area, and considers the present pollution status of these communities with proposals for their effective management. As he points out, a complex system of backwaters with mangrove swamps, reed beds, mud flats, sandy beaches and estuarine environments have developed in the former deltaic region of the Indus Delta at its mouth.

Effect of Agricultural, Municipal and Industrial Pollution on the Indus Ecosystem
By Dawood Ghaznavi.
Dawood Ghaznavi discusses the three major sources of pollution of the Indus system consisting of agricultural, municipal and industrial pollution, and provides a list of recommendations for amelioration. Apart from Islamabad and Karachi, municipal waste is discharged untreated into drainage channels which eventually lead to the Indus or one of its tributaries.

Sustainable Management in the Northern Indus Delta
By Peter-John Meynell.
Peter-John Meynell focuses on the important need to manage the mangrove system of the Indus delta with special emphasis on management policies and practices. He reviews the IUCN - World Conservation Union project with the Sindh Food Department and other parties whose objectives are to develop a sustainable multifaceted management plan for the northern creeks of the Indus Delta.

Fisheries of the Indus Estuarine System
By Mohammed Moazzam.
Mohammed Moazzam describes the nature of the fisheries and fishing methods in the Indus Delta and associated coastal waters. He points out that although there is a significant amount of information about environmental conditions in the Indus Delta, data on many aspects of the present day fisheries are not available.

Animal and Plant Communities: Biodiversity, Environmental Conservation and Management
By Shahzad Mufti.
Shahzad Mufti outlines the different vegetation zones and quotes examples of endangered biodiversity along the River Indus with suggestions for conservation and management measures.

Environmental Degradation and Marine Pollution along the Karachi Coast and Adjacent Creeks in the Indus Delta
By Niaz Rizvi, Mehrun Nisa and Mazhar Haq.
Niaz Rizvi, Mehrun Nisa and Mazhar Haq discuss the problem of environmental degradation of the Indus delta, including its pollution, eutrophication, and habitat and community loss, together with potential methods of control.

A Pictorial Vies of the Indus River and Man's Impact on its Role and Resources
By Tom Roberts.
Tom Roberts provides a pictorial view of the River Indus and its environmental resources as affected by human activity, with a wide range of examples from wildlife conservation, irrigation systems, and surviving river cultures.

The past and present environments of the Indus River have played a major role in determining the geographical distribution of mineral resources of the areas bounding the river. Changes in water, soil and sediment transport on a seasonal and long term basis are also frequent, and these have inevitable consequences for desertification, waterlogging, salinization and flood forecasting. There is therefore considerable interest in the mineral resources, hydrology and geomorphology of the river system and its associated land.

Geological Evidence of the Ancestral Indus from the Himalayan Foothills.
By Peter Friend, Mahmood Raza, Samad Baig and Imran Khan.
Peter Friend, Mahmood Raza, Samad Baig and Imran Khan reconstruct the historic flow patterns of the River Indus in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern Pakistan.

Oil and Gas Resources in the Indus Basin: History and Present Status.
By Salman Ghouri and Arif Kemal.
Salman Ghouri and Arif Kemal describe the history and present status of the oil and gas resources in the Upper and Lower Indus Basins of Pakistan, and place these in the context of the economy of Pakistan and its energy requirements.

Past, Present and Future of the Indus Delta.
By Bilal Haq.
Bilal Haq considers the importance of subsidence and sea level rise in relation to the Indus delta, and discusses the role of sediment load, water discharge, de-watering and sea water intrusion. The author emphasises the difference in the response of  a river such as the Indus to sea level rise and sea level fall.

The Indus River: Water, Power Resources and Environment.
By Asif Kazi.
Asif Kazi highlights the importance of water and power resources of the Indus, and emphasises the environmental and social impacts of these resources and their sustainable management. He reviews the current level of Indus River development in the water and power sectors, and the environmental impact of these developments.

The Environmentzl Impact of the River Indus on the Coastal and Offshore Zones of the Arabian Sea and the North-West Indian Ocean.
By Azra Meadows and Peter Meadows.
Azra Meadows and Peter Meadows discuss the potential environmental impact of the River Indus on physical, chemical and biological processes in the coastal and offshore waters of the Arabian Sea and north west Indian Ocean.

Indus River Flood Hazard and Management Strategies.
By David Oakley.
David Oakley describes the flood hazards of the Indus River and discusses flood assessment, management and control measures. He suggests that in prehistory the lower mountain slopes and hills of the Himalayas in what is now Pakistan were almost certainly heavily wooded.

Seepage of Water of the River Indus and Occurrence of Fresh Groundwater in Sindh.
By Mohammad Panhwar.
Mohammad Panhwar considers the changing courses of the River Indus and the resultant effects of water seepage and ground water recharge. The author's studies of ground water together with aerial photographs, have provided a unique record of the changing courses of the river during recorded history.

Environmental Isotope Hydrology of the Indus River and its Impact on the Groundwater Resources Evaluation of the Indus Basin.
By Ishaq Sajjad, Azam Tasneem, Dildar Hussain, Iqbal Khan and Mubarik Ali.
Ishaq Sajjad, Azam Tasneem, Dildar Hussain, Iqbal Khan and Mubarik Ali describe research on  environmental isotope hydrology as applied to parts of the Indus River, and the implications for ground water resources. They outline applications of environmental isotope techniques to hydrological problems in the region of the Tarbela dam and Chashma Barrage.

The Evolution of the Indus River in Relation to Topographic Uplift, Erosion, Climate and Geology of Western Tibet, the Trans-Himalayan  and High Himalayan Ranges.
By Michael Searle and Louis Owen
Michael Searle and Louis Owen provide evidence of how the Indus River evolved in the light of topographic uplift, erosion, exhumation rates, climate and geology. They discuss the interaction between the geology and tectonics of the western Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges and the drainage systems of the Indus.

Indus to the Sea: Evolution, of the System and Himalayan Geomorphology.
By John Shroder and Michael Bishop.
John Shroder and Michael Bishop provide a geomorphological analysis of the Indus River and its origins in the Himalayan system, and give an account of modern techniques that are being used to determine denudation rates in the Himalayas.

Geology and Oil/Gas Presence in the Offshore Indus Basin of Pakistan.
By Shuaib and Shuaib.
Shuaib and Shuaib review the geological background to oil and gas exploration work conducted in the offshore Indus Basin.  The offshore basin is divided into two parts, the offshore Indus Basin in the east and the offshore Makran Basin in the west. The Murray Ridge divides the two.
Postscript: The editors are very sorry to report that Dr S.M. Shuaib, senior author of the above paper and Professor of Geology at Karachi University, passed away in February 1996. He was an outstanding geologist and made a wide range of important contributions to the geology and hydrocarbon prospects of Pakistan.

The archaeology and prehistory of sites in Pakistan are some of the richest in the world dating from more than 8000 years ago. These have to us as a species, and present interest has meant that there is a rapidly developing tourist industry relating to these sites, which brings its own problems. In addition, the changing patterns of human occupation, trade and transport affect and have been affected by the changes of land form and coastline. In this section and also elsewhere in the introduction we have spelt Mohenjo Daro thus, to ensure consistency. However we appreciate that there are a number of alternative spellings.

Excavations at Hund on the Banks of the Indus: the Last Capital City of Gandhara.
By Ihsan Ali.
Ihsan Ali describes the ancient city of Hund that lies on the west bank of the Indus River on the Peshawar Plain, and gives an account of recent excavations that he and colleagues have conducted there. The ruins of the city now lie under the village of Hund on the river bank, which is situated about half way between Attock and Tarbela Dam.

Some Questions of Environment and Prehistory in the Indus Valley from Palaeolithic to Urban Indus Times.
By Bridget Allchin.
Bridget Allchin proposes a link between the early sites of the Indus region and the Indus River. There are many aspects of this which are of great cultural importance and require careful preservation.

The Palaeolithic and Pleistocene Potential of the Indus Drainage System: a Review of Recent Work.
By Robin Dennell.
Robin Dennell focuses on recent field work conducted in the Siwaliks by the British Archaeological Mission, including discoveries of stone age material. His primary interest lies in the early history of Homo sapiens and its ancestors in Pakistan.

Ecology and Population Mobility in the Prehistoric Settlement of the Lower Indus Valley, Sindh, Pakistan.
By Louis Flam.
Louis Flam discusses the geomorphological, climatological, and ecological factors in Sindh, and correlates these with human settlement data, in order to explain prehistoric adaptations and population movement in the lower Indus valley.

Sindh Valley Civilization - New Enterpretations.
By Taswir Hamidi.
Taswir Hamidi provides an interesting and stimulating account of the Sindh valley civilisation (Indus Valley civilisation) with examples of its culture and town planning.

Indus River Dynamics and the Abandonment of Mohenjo Daro.
By Michael Harvey and Stanley Schumm.
Michael Harvey and Stanley Schumm discuss the importance of the dynamic nature of the Indus in Sindh, and the significance of this in leading to the abandonment of Mohenjo Daro.

Mohenjo Daro and the River Indus.
By Michael Jansen.
Michael Jansen provides recent evidence for the vertical extent of anthropogenic material from the ancient city of Mohenjo Daro. Michael Jansen feels that the enormous undertaking involved in building a city of this sort almost de novo - if this is what happened, was dictated by the rapid development of riverine transport and communication along the Indus together with a west - east trade route between Quetta and the Rohri Hills.

Ecological Changes in the Headwaters of the Indus.
By Karl Jettmar.
Karl Jettmar in a paper on ecological changes in the headwaters region of the Indus, outlines the early domestic use of humped cattle as revealed by studies in Swat, and then discusses the subsequent use of goat breeding which he suggests was caused by the destruction of vegetation by fire.

Prehistoric Population and Settlement in Sindh.
By Gregory Possehl.
Gregory Possehl describes settlement data which have been used to deduce relative changes in population size during the prehistoric period in Sindh. As Gregory Possehl points out, this starts at a very early stage in mans history at about 7000 BC with the appearance of village communities in the lower Indus Valley encompassing Sindh and the Kachi Plain.

The Indus - River of Poetry.
By AnneMarie Schimmel.
AnneMarie Schimmel captures the interest that poets have taken in the River Indus and explores the reasons which inspired their poems and the symbolism that the river holds for them.

The Historical Geography of Indus Basin Management. A Long-Term Perspective 1500-2000.
By James Wescoat.
James Wescoat provides a thought-provoking analysis of the history of the management of the Indus basin particularly during periods of territorial instability and conflict between 1500 and the present day.

All of these contributions show very clearly that national and international multidisciplinary initiatives by governmental and non-governmental organisations are urgently required to ensure the protection of the Indus River system into the 21st century and beyond. Only in this way can the system be managed and conserved for future generations of mankind. These matters are considered in detail by the contributors in the recommendations at the end of the volume.

One of the most important requirements in all future work on the Indus River and its surrounding lands is for coherent multidisciplinary programmes involving an integrated and holistic approach to the environment. This will require detailed co-operative plans to be formulated during the early stages of programme development, and will need careful co-ordination within Pakistan, and on an international scale.

 In view of the complexity of many of the sites and ecosystems that require study, groups of specialists having a range of scientific and cultural expertise will be needed in most of the programmes. Furthermore, the initial stages of many of the programmes are likely to involve the collation of information that is at present only available from scattered sources.

The recommendations agreed by delegates, which are based on the  topics covered during the symposium, emphasised the urgent need for integrated research, conservation, management and restoration in a number of critical target areas of the Indus River and its surrounding regions as follows.

There is an immediate need for multidisciplinary research projects that will establish baseline information and provide databases for future economic utilization, conservation, planning and management.
The projects will involve the investigation of sites throughout the length of the Indus River and its surrounding lands: the Himalayas and Himalayan foothills, the Siwalik Hills, the central flood plain, the deserts, deltaic region, mangrove swamps and coastal zone.

Comprehensive integrated programmes of conservation are needed in view of the rapid degradation associated with human activities in the following areas -

  • Archaeological sites.
  • Endangered ecosystems.
  • Animal and plant species many of which are endangered and some of which require protection.

Management and Restoration
Urgent programmes of integrated management and restoration are required for a number of sites associated with the River Indus and surrounding areas, because of their resources, economic value, cultural significance and importance to local populations. Many of the sites also have great tourist potential.


The editors and contributors wish to express their gratitude to the sponsors for their generous support without which the symposium would have not been possible. These were the Linnean Society of London, the British Council, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of Unesco, Unilever Plc., Hamdard Foundation of Pakistan, University of Glasgow and the University of Bradford. We are most grateful to Dr John C. Marsden,  Executive Secretary of the Linnean Society of London for his continued encouragement and kind support during all stages before, during and after the symposium. We are particularly grateful to the Linnean Society for providing the outstanding conference facilities, accommodation and evening dinner and reception to the contributors. Oxford University Press, Karachi is gratefully acknowledged for the publication of  the symposium proceedings.

© Photograph Copyright Azra and Peter Meadows.
A highland torrent in Birir, one of the Kalash Valleys in Chitral. This small river feeds into the Chitral, or Kunar, River, in the main Chitral Valley. The Chitral River runs south and then southwest into Afghanistan, meeting the Kabul River near Jalalabad. From there the Kabul River flows eastwards to join the Indus River at Attock in Pakistan.