The Pakistan National Committee of International Union for Conservation of Nature members (IUCN) as well as representatives of ten major civil society, community services and non-governmental organisations, with a special interest in the environment, expressed their deep apprehensions about the proposed city of ‘Zulfikarabad’.
During a special meeting with officials from the Sindh Government, the representatives of these organisations said they were committed to ensuring sustainable development that protected ecosystems and natural resources, instead of destroying them.
On the other hand, the senior Sindh Government officials and the Zulfikarabad Development Authority (ZDA) emphasised that the new city aimed to promote high quality development that would benefit rural and coastal communities. They added that the project would relieve the pressure on Karachi and other cities. Despite the glaring differences between the CSOs/NGOs and the government, discussions were held in a cordial environment.
Chairperson PNC of the IUCN, Shahid Sayeed Khan, who is also the chief executive of Indus Earth Trust, presided over the meeting. The IUCN global Vice President and Regional Councillor, West Asia, Javed Jabbar, also took part in the discussion.
A comprehensive background paper on Zulfikarabad was prepared by Naseer Memon and tabled for reference.
In his presentation, Shahid Sayed Khan said the CSOs/NGOs – which were members of the IUCN – had been committed to sustainable development. He, along with Javed Jabbad and representatives of the CSOs/NGOs summarised their concerns by saying the rights and water requirements of rural Sindh needed to be addressed before an urban centre was established. They added that the vulnerability of the planned site to natural disasters also needed to be taken into account.
Sindh Environment Mir Hussain Ali stressed that in all the meetings he had attended on this subject, President Zardari, Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah, the provincial environment minister and Chairman ZDA reiterated their determination in preventing the project from harming the environment. He was confident that this pledge would fulfilled and advised that sweeping statements and premature conclusions should be avoided.
In his presentation, Shaukat Alvi of ZDA said that the project was in its early stages and that land that had been acquired was only in portions and not yet contiguous. Therefore, an environmental impact assessment (EIA), to which the ZDA was fully committed, could be conducted at this time. However, he stressed that the assessment would be done at the right time.
He said that the President of Pakistan had conceived this project to relieve the stress and congestion of Karachi and create entirely new prospects for employment, infrastructure development and economic growth for the deprived people of the coastal areas.
The ZDA representative emphasised that by applying the experience of the creation of the new city known as Shenzen in China and the signing of MoUs with leading Chinese firms, the people and economy of Pakistan would benefit greatly.
He assured all those present that their valid concerns would be addressed.
Vice President IUCN Javed Jabbar said that in the case of such a large-scale, multi-dimensional project with serious implications for the environment the basic concept should be assessed by ECNEC, long before huge investments were made to purchase land.
After taking note of the widely differing respective view-points, the meeting concluded with the broad agreement that complete transparency needed to be applied to all aspects of the planning and implementation of the project.
Similarly, global, regional and national laws as well as treaties and regulations concerning the environment and the obligations of the government would be fully respected.