Building a Paradise?
This blog post, which was originally written in 2008, outlines the environmental conditions of Bundal and Buddo Islands in the light of development on the coast. Despite many concerns raised by nongovernmental organizations, political parties and even the Sindh government, the development on the coast is still on-going, without proper planning, and 2015 makes way for extension of phase VII and VIII.
……There were dogs, waiting, stranded watching helplessly at their saviors. Crying, reaching out, and calling for help. Then there was a silence, a moment to let the reality sink in my flesh. The wind blew in my face, cooling the sweat off my forehead. I searched into nothingness……what was I trying to find……
The northwest coast of Pakistan towards Karachi has a network of creeks, which may be taken as Korangi/Phitti creek system. The Korangi creek was once part of Indus delta through Kalri branch (now known as Gharo Creek). Along the creeks there are several islands of which Bundal and Buddo islands are more prominent.
Bundal Island is located at the eastern end of the Sindh coastal zone, off the coast of Karachi; bordered by Korangi, Phitti and Jhari creeks. It is the highest and probably the biggest along the Sindh coast. On the east of Bundal island is Khirpranwala, on the north east are the Jhari, Kadiro and Korangi Creeks, and on the south east is the Muchaka Island. The length of the Bundal Island is about 8 km; the width varies about 4 km in the north and 1 km in the south. The height of the island ranges from 1–3 m i.e. higher and lower at places.
On the eastern side the island has deep channels that dry in ebb tide. On the east there are sand dunes and steep surface land, which can be reached by boats. In the south there are shallow patch of sand that has formed a new island locally known as Buddo Island, which has come up during the last two decades, local fishermen also call it Dingi. Both the islands are situated at a distance of 1.5 km from Defense Housing Authority (DHA) of Karachi. The Bundal and Buddo Islands comprise 12,000 acres of land. The sandy parts of the islands are under the influence of monsoon winds. The sandy narrow neck of the island and low areas are subject to erosion and overlapping of waves across the east and west bay in stormy monsoon season.
……swarming in the open channel, swimming, scared. Battling away from the nylon wires caging them, struggling. Strong hands pulled with force, expressions locked in a gaze, pulling. Raising their nets they looked closely at their catch, eyebrows raised….their catch comprised of dead fish……
Exploitation of shrimp and fish is practiced in the close vicinity of the Bundal and Buddo islands. Among the species caught from the region are high commercial value shrimps, fishes that are of high export value. The shallow creeks along the island are nursery grounds for species of fish and shrimp. The area has high fishing pressure and resources are being over exploited. The area is famous for dolphins, birds and turtle breeding grounds. The indiscriminate use of illegal fishing nets like bholla and katra may result in the elimination of fisheries resources in the adjacent of the creeks and that will affect major fish species of the coast of Karachi. This catch of juveniles which is sold as trash is the major set back. If necessary management strategies are not implemented, the fishing resources of the region will be lost.
Dumping of sewage waste and disposal from Cargo-ships and the coastal residing areas is a common practice. The jetty itself hosts a stench so miasmatic, reflecting the facilities at the unloading dock. The careless handling of the catch and the disposal of unwanted fish back in the water has deteriorated the fish stock. The unloading dock does not have any public bathrooms and open spaces are used. Most of the times it’s the sea that’s being used for this purpose. The unloading place is the floor where the community is throwing their trash, spitting out pan. There are no storage houses and the fish quality is poor. The water is dark and filthy, the runoff from sewage is quiet obvious. The channels are overflowing with disposed garbage floating on the surface. Plastic bags and discarded wrappers are visible. The channels inhabit various organisms, including the marine turtle who feeds on jellyfishes. Plastic bags look identical to jellyfishes, of which turtles are fond of eating. They try to swallow, choking themselves resulting in death.
……I scampered under the hot sun burning down; I was led in an unknown direction. My expressions changed as I came in view of what my instincts had brought me closer to. Realization…my heart skipped a beat. There it was, lying peacefully…torn and preyed upon by scavengers. A dead turtle……
In September 2006 government of Pakistan gave a Dubai property firm, Emaar the go-ahead for a $43 billion project to develop two island resorts in Bundal and Buddo Island. A bridge would be constructed at a cost of $50 million to link Karachi Defense Housing Society Phase 8 with Bundal and Buddo Islands. A major portion of the two islands has submerged under the sea and the Emaar group would reclaim the land by using modern technology. According to initial plan, about 15,000 houses would be constructed and would be sold to public.
The current situation is weary and will continue to worsen with more developments and as the project paces. The islands are lined up with domestic waste and once the development programme goes into gear the water will get polluted and we will lose species at a greater rate then ever before. Buddo and Bundal Islands host a wide range of species.
A recent survey by WWF-Pakistan shows the spectacular plant diversity in these areas. However, Bundal covering a larger area has similar plant species. Buddo Island is rich in plant diversity and includes many species like Sueda monica, Halopyssum, Halophyta, Prosopis julifera, cressa, astragulas and many other exotic species.
The greater quantity of mangroves are present at this site. Several commercially important marine fish species as well as shrimp, crab etc depend on the mangrove for their breeding and propagation. The mangroves also provide grazing grounds to camels, the breeding of which forms the main source of livelihood of the Jat tribe. Removing mangrove shields is nothing but inviting the wrath of nature in the shape of tidal and cyclonic disasters. After the disastrous Tsunami which hit Asian coasts in 2004, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) compared the death toll from two villages in Sri Lanka hit by the devastating giant waves. Only two people died in the settlement with dense mangrove and scrub forest, while up to 6,000 people died in the village without similar vegetation.
Mangroves are commercially important as 60–80 per cent fisheries catch are from these areas. Birds use this habitat as roosting, feeding and breeding grounds.
It is ironic that while Pakistan government announced an Environment Policy in 2005, in practice it takes decision that harms the natural environment.
“……don’t turn away from possible futures before you are certain you don’t have anything to learn from them…you are always free to change your mind and choose a different future……” ( Richard Bach )
These Islands are beautiful and they form a very diverse ecosystem. Development programmes will bring along threats to the life that is dependant on these resources. A very large community depends on these resources for livelihood. Our waters are already at risk with 300 million gallon dumping daily of untreated waste. Construction of the new city would result in complete destruction of the marine life and environment. Unfortunately, long-term assessments have not been made or considered.
Conserving our natural resources is very important. Nature has provided us with bounties and it is our responsibility to save our environment from such disasters.
……when I was a little child I played around in my backyard, it was laden with lush green grass, flowers blossomed and I ran around, danced in the rain. I never cared for it though…and now…it’s gone!! I couldn’t recreate it; it was irreplaceable, memories of childhood, songs of innocence fades away……
In due time, we will continue not to care about the world around us and this world will abandon us in our own busy circle 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. We imagine….
“……Imagine the universe beautiful and just and perfect, then be sure of one thing. Allah has imagined it quiet a bit better then you have. A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed. It feels an impulsion…this is the place to go now. But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons……”
( Richard Bach )
Building A Paradise?
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.