A green tsunami?

August 15, 2021

Amid protests by environmentalists against the cutting of trees, Prime Minister Imran Khan formally launched the Margalla Avenue Project in April and construction has started

A green tsunami?

Today (Sunday, August 15), concerned Islamabadians are going to walk from Margalla Road to Marghazar with a message to keep Islamabad clean and green. Starting this walk from the newly aligned Margalla Road has different meanings to different people. For some, it was not a good initiative because it redirected a bulk of traffic to some posh areas of Sectors E and F.

Along the lush green Margallas foothills that fall in the National Park area, protected against unnecessary construction work, trees were cut to start road construction. Amid protests by environmentalists against the cutting of trees and the emergence of a source of pollution so close to the National Park area, Prime Minister Imran Khan formally launched the Margalla Avenue Project in April and the construction has started.

Environmentalists are mostly of the view that trees should not be cut, the hills should not be altered in any way and the government should explore other alternatives to such development projects that do not damage the environment. Salmaan Mansoor, a known architect in Islamabad, says that green cities are evolving all over the world because global leaders feel the urgency of global warming. “We should take care that our cities remain conducive for plantation,” he said.

The prime minister launched a plantation drive in Islamabad in July 2021 by planting a sapling in Fatima Jinnah Park, the city’s largest green park. Though the countrywide target of the campaign is 10 billion trees, the Islamabad administration and the Capital Development Authority (CDA) have planted 500,000 trees so far, Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat told The News on Sunday (TNS).

Asked about media reports contradicting a previous claim of planting one million trees in the city last year, he said, “We conducted a proper audit after planting the one million trees in 2019. Many citizens took part in the drive. But planting a tree is not enough. Animals, like wild boars, can and do destroy small plants. Insects, like termites, eat them. Many plants die from harsh weather… The media go for sensationalism rather then appreciating the ground realities.”

Tahir Abbas, from the Institute of Space Technology (IST), has an interest in horticulture. He says Islamabad is fast losing its green cover as unplanned urbanisation and illegal housing societies were taking their toll. “Ghauri Town (the largest illegal housing society in the capital) has become Islamabad’s Lyari. From Ghauri Town to Rawat, the green belt on both sides of the Islamabad Expressway has been encroached upon. In violation of the master plan and a court order, marriage halls and fuel stations have built direct access to the Expressway, defeating the very purpose of green belts in the city,” he said. He says he is encouraged to see that new trees are being planted.

CDA Chairman Amer Ali Ahmed says the civic body has introduced a new master plan for the first time since the federal capital was built. He claims that the new master plan will make illegal housing societies and unplanned urbanisation a thing of the past. “We have made it mandatory for all housing societies to increase their green area, allowing them to extend the vertical limits for their buildings. When you introduce high-rise buildings, you actually save green areas that would otherwise be eaten into by urbanisation.”

Environmentalists are of the view that trees should not be cut, hills should not be altered and the government should explore other alternatives to such development projects that do not damage the environment.

As for the Margalla Road, he says it is not being built in the National Park. He says it was part of the city’s first master plan. “The flood of vehicles that would otherwise clog Srinagar Highway and choke Bhara Kahu for hours will now be shifted to Margalla Road. It is not a new source of pollution. These vehicles already go through the city.” He says local fruits and other trees are being planted in the city: “If you look at Margalla Hills, you will find that other than pine, several foreign invasive species were planted here in the past. They look green, but they are harmful to the ecosystem in many ways. In addition, they are harmful to human health as they cause a variety of allergies. Hospitals in Islamabad have a large number of patients with respiratory diseases caused by these trees and plants. The CDA has a plan to replace them with local trees.”

The chairman says that new trees have been planted in all sectors and along several roads. When asked about a plantation plan, he says the CDA has invited the vice chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) University to devise one. “So far, our environment wing, with the help of reputed horticulturalists, has taken care that these trees are planted properly. We have planted more than two million trees in several phases so far,” he says.

Regarding today’s walk from Margalla Road to Murghazar, he says the community and business entities are cooperating with the CDA to make the initiative a success. CocaCola and some other brands are among the sponsors of this walk. Before the walk, we plan to engage citizens in a plantation drive on August 14, he says. He adds that young people from schools, colleges and universities have not only taken part in the plantation drives, but are also going door to door, distributing saplings amongst citizens. Dr Muhammad Ali, vice chancellor of Quaid-Azam University, tells TNS that his university has arranged extensive plantation drives on the campus. “Our students and faculty members have made a difference. On August 14, we will plant more trees along the roads in our university,” he says.

Naval Anchorage, one of the few legal housing societies, is also launching the third phase of its tree plantation drive on August 14. The society is amongst the greenest areas in the city. Naval Anchorage administration has said that they plant only local trees and are replacing harmful foreign trees like paper mulberry.

Islamabad has taken the lead in the fight against climate change, with over two million trees planted in three years. The city houses four of the country’s 13 top universities. The students have found the plantation drives useful off-campus activities. The CDA chairman and DC Shafqaat are encouraging the youth to participate and using their potential to add to the green cover of the city.

The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat

A green tsunami?