by Umair Shahid
I sit at my desk and have my hand in head trying to see how the world has changed in the past seven years? It was seven years ago, in 2008, when I was among those who highlighted the issue of construction, and reclamation on the Bundal and Buddo Islands by a project funded by EMAAR.
Seven years and nothing has changed. We are back to square one with yet another piece of land targeted to be reclaimed, extended and made part of a luxurious setting at the fair price of environment. For development and businessmen, this seems like a walk in the park, and a fair deal. It really does not matter whether it’s a piece of land which comprises of the muddy slump or it has mangrove forests, whether the area is rich in marine biodiversity or has birds migrating east during the winter. We have people dying in the country, and there are people like me who talk about saving the environment and protecting the turtle. Who am I kidding? Right or wrong?
If we look at the cases of Bundal and Buddo construction with the Korangi extension area for phase VII-VIII are quite similar. Time and time again, we have come to realize that governance efforts trail behind coastal development and degradation of marine habitat. There is a saying, ‘If it is development, it is not sustainable, and if it is sustainable it is not development’. The existing policies and management strategies are not robust enough to tackle the issues related to coastal development. In 2008-2009 we saw the government prepare an environmental policy, and it is ironic that actions say otherwise. We often work in a reactive focus and damages that have already been done are irreparable. So where does that lead us? And how far are we willing to take the development? Do the coastal areas of Pakistan offer no value?
Yes, the coastal areas of Pakistan are under-appreciated for their value. The increasing development on the coast in the light of recent government policy to privatize land; reclaimed for extension of household arena poses a risk to the marine environment and exposes the population to natural disasters. Although, the coastal areas are not considered pristine near Karachi, they have the potential to maintain ecological processes. The presence of a vast, healthy and flourishing mangrove forest is capable enough to provide protection to the coastal population of Karachi, in particular DHA.
Why I mention this is because the plan is already in effect as I write. The Gizri creek which lies near Karachi is a dumping ground for solid waste and municipal waste. Adjacent to this area is the 490 acre plot which will be reclaimed. While the land was originally filed as ‘disputed’ has now been overruled by the court and has been given a go ahead for the spade work. The concern here is that the 490 acres of land is occupied by a dense mangrove forest. This is a healthy living forest which helps clean the air, absorbs carbon and most importantly toxins and filters the polluted waters.
We must understand that mangrove forests have adapted over the period of time to survive in harsh conditions, i.e. tolerate high levels of salinity. Moreover, these plants take more than 5 years to fully mature and turn in a dense forest. It takes a while for these plants to fully establish. Moreover, there are numerous other services that these forests provide, as they nurture the environment, support bird populations for roosting, serve as nursery for crabs, fishes, and shrimps, food for fishers and shelter from storms.
Let me give you a scenario that I often use when I give environment education lectures to school children and even sometimes to corporate groups. I am out to hunt a lion. However, I choose to use an axe instead of a gun. Rather than searching for the lion and killing it with an axe, I cut down all the forests, all the grass, and wait. Did I not kill the lion then? I get mixed responses most of the time, but within those mixed responses everyone has their theory and the human mind slowly starts to match the dots to reveal the picture. Did you get it? Well, once the forests and grass is gone. There will be no food left for the lion’s prey, i.e. consider deer in this case. Now the lion will have no food, and will eventually die. This is how food chain works. Everything in nature is connected. It is integrated like a web, in a very dynamic manner. Any small change can have a cascading effect. In the end, it is ‘us’ who will be affected.
There is a need to find a balance. While the rest of the world is investing in area closures, and forming marine protected areas, we are busy working out areas where we can start development projects….and as I said almost about 7 years ago…it seems like we are heading in that very direction.
So I will ask, in due time, will we continue not to care about the world around us and this world will abandon us in our own busy circles of life. Not knowing what we take for granted, our duties…responsibilities. Rules, concerns will be meaningless as we just wait and see the horizon vanishing infront of our eyes. How we will tell our children stories….stories of a world we once lived in, existed!! We will emphasize its beauty and talk about the wonders and joy it brought to us. We will show books and pictures to our children how dolphins, turtles, porpoises once inhabited our seas and how we would wait in the sun just to get a glimpse of these wonderful creatures. But, that would only be in stories, perhaps then we might for a second realize how we could have made a difference.
Umair Shahid is Coordinator Smart Fishing Initiative, WWF-Pakistan.