Growing pressures have raised questions over the performance of the government authorities concerned in countering the rapid depletion of mangrove forests leaving the city of Karachi more prone to natural calamities.
The area adjacent to the sensitive location was being reclaimed for residential and commercial purposes, the News learnt through interviews with different officials at the Karachi Fisheries Harbour Authority (KFHA).
The area comes under the jurisdiction of the Karachi Port Trust (KPT). Harbour routes are being used by trucks for carrying solid waste and debris for earth filling and building structures. Officials told The News that the harbour had become a channel for outlaws to enter the sensitive area.
There are two routes to bring material for the reclamation of mangroves, boats from the sea route and trucks coming from harbour by roads. Despite concrete evidence, nobody has checked on the situation and taken action to avert the potential threat of an emergency. “It is happening because there is no coordination of KPT with the harbour agencies.”
“This might be the reason for delaying implementation of security plan, designed two years back to keep the harbour jurisdiction safe.” The project of intensifying security was a joint initiative by all the stakeholders, including officials of relevant government agencies at the KFHA. However, due to unchecked reclamation of land along the harbour, the sensitive area had become easily accessible to anti-social elements.
The KFHA has started implementation of a master plan to update the harbour by creating facilities for boats, traders and community. It is building three modern ice manufacturing plants at a 400sq yard plot. In addition, the boats and the crew are also computerised to ensure efficiency.
The community elders raised the issue of fast depleting mangroves in the recent meeting held at the KFH which was chaired by Sindh Fisheries Minister Zahid Bhurgari. The minister issued directives to take up the matter with the KPT, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the forest department to avoid further mangrove loss.
A KPT official confirmed that land mafia was active and encroaching upon the mangrove land through reclamation. “KPT does not have a separate security agency to control these people directly so we have approached the commissioner Karachi and governor Sindh to deploy law enforcement agency personnel at four identified spots to monitor the mangroves cutting and reclamation of land,” he said.
KPT officials claimed to have designed a plan for plant saplings of avicennia marina mangroves specie on about ten to twenty acres of land this year by the end of August. The specie has been selected because it’s pollution-resistant and survives in saline water. The KPT claimed to have about 1000 hectares mangroves forest land, but according to experts they (KPT) had allotted the entire mangroves-covered land for residential purposes and presently they might have less than 100 hectares, he said.
The KPT is fighting against land grabbers and the government of Sindh. The Sindh government had awarded mangroves area to certain ‘sea-lords’ who were cleaning the forests in Younusabad and adjoining area to reclaim the land, the official said.
“This is not the responsibility of a single agency but instead all concerned government departments, citizen bodies and the community itself should unite to protect mangroves, which is a natural shield for the city. The threat can be gauged from the recent warnings that after Balochistan, Karachi could be hit by disasters.”
There are three government agencies—Sindh Forest Department, Karachi Port Trust and Port Qasim—which own the mangrove forests spread over 129-km long the city coast.
There is more than 80,000 hectares mangroves covered area in Pakistan’s 350-km long Sindh coast. WWF claims to have planted saplings on 6240 hectares from 2006 to 2011 in Keti Bunder area.
Dr Tahid Qureshi of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said they have planted 5000 hectares in Indus Delta and 3000 hectares in Balochistan coast from 1987. Similarly, Sindh forest department officials have planted 30,000 hectares through annual plantation of mangroves saplings.
Despite these claims, the government agencies and non-governmental organisations are reluctant to initiate strong advocacy campaigns and take the case to an international level to stop further destruction of mangroves. After the recent disasters around the globe, coastal nations have become conscious and planned to keep mangroves shields to minimize losses in case any cyclone or tsunamis hits. It is very much ironic that Pakistan with a decent number of mangrove forests is depleting the same in the name of development and urbanization.
The Federal Environment Ministry along with a trained local workforce of the Sindh Forest Department had planted 541,176 saplings of mangrove species Rhizophora mucronata and broken the Guinness world records of planting maximum number of saplings in one day on July 15, 2009 in Keti Bunder area. The event was monitored by local and international adjudicators. But gradually the plants have dried up, leaving the communities barren.