The metro page of a newspaper, last month, gleefully exhibited a photograph of “Replica of a cactus plant” installed along GT Road to “beautify” the city … Amazing!
Note the words “cactus plant” and “beautify”. A Google search on the cactus plant yielded the following results: cacti are ugly ... and they sting! Botanists worldwide, consider this specie essentially a desert plant.
But what is it doing in Peshawar? During the current monsoon planting season it is being zealously planted all over the city by Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) instead of large indigenous trees as was the norm a few decades earlier. Certainly we have travelled a long way towards desertification of what was once a “city of majestic gardens.”
Peshawar is, of course, being “beautified” by our town planners and administrators; besides installing giant sized replicas of cactus plants...fighter jets, rockets and missiles and what not, are being installed on main thorough fares. Hurtling towards the desertification that environmentalists and meteorologists have long predicted, unprecedented heat waves followed by cloud bursts, torrential rains and floods are just a reminder.
When shade-providing trees are being cut down what purpose is a ‘replica of a cactus plant’ meant to serve?
Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to some experts sit atop an ecological volcano waiting to explode. Climate change is here and already hitting us hard. The cactus flower on GT Road intersection is perhaps a reminder of the ominous future. There is no other way to explain this harebrained idea!
An IUCN expert once commented, “Trees are the most convenient obstacles for city planners and administrators to get rid of. Any expansion or development does not proceed without denuding a few dozen or even hundreds of trees in the process.” On the other hand, in the developed world trees are symbols of heritage and veneration.
Visit any “civilised” nation and one can notice the difference how they treat their natural heritage. We expected better sense from Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government, but it’s business-as-usual for PDA and Construction and Works (C&W) with their hyperactive bulldozers and cranes removing all vestiges of old trees and replacing them with tacky fountains or some concrete monstrosity.
Our cities suffer from an obsessive “Dubai syndrome”, lacking imagination about how to conserve old trees and plant huge indigenous shady trees. As an environmentalist, I have been long advocating regular sensitisation programmes for C&W and PDA and other line departments assigned with urban development. During the last decade, our city administrators developed an obsession with imported palm and date trees (la’ Dubai again!) normally suitable for arid climates. Having thrown away extravagant amount of tax payers’ money, the surviving dead stumps along major roads remind us of this worthless enterprise.
Climate change is here and already hitting us hard. The cactus flower on GT Road intersection is perhaps a warning of the ominous future.
Perhaps the apathy about environmental outcomes of mindless development exists in all major metropolitan cities. But unlike Peshawar and Karachi, Lahore has a vibrant civil society. LahoreI Bachao Tehrik Iis an exception, led by the invincible Imrana Tiwana and her dedicated team of professionals, doing a wondrous job of taking on the ubiquitous bureaucracy, winning many environmental battles citing violation of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) through proactive legal steps. This example needs to be emulated in other cities as well.
Dr Asadullah, Director, Center of Plant Biodiversity and Botanical garden in Azakhel, Nowshera, says, “For centuries indigenous species like IneemI, IbarhI (Indian banyan), IpeepalI (bodhi tree), IchinaarI (maple), IjaamanI, mango and IkachnaarI (camel foots tree), IsheeshumI (Indian rose wood), IbakiyanI (China berry), IbairI (berry), IsareekI (silk tree), berries (Chinese apple), IkeekarI, IpalosaI, IamaltaasI and so many others existed predating the Mughal, Durrani and British periods. These contributed to a unique biodiversity of colour, fragrance, shade, nesting and fruit for birds, squirrels and other species; above all in maintaining a temperate climate. No wonder large trees are considered lungs of the Earth and even compared to nature’s air conditioner.”
This is unknown to our modern city managers who are now opting for water (and labour) intensive fine grass and exotic plants, and even cacti species, for decorative purposes (Dubai certainly!) that do not serve the purpose of reducing the “urban heat island effect” of a populous city like Peshawar with exploding population and smoke emitting vehicles. The solution is huge shady trees, but sadly the PTI’s billion tree tsunami remains confined to the rural areas has yet to hit Peshawar.
Meanwhile the hapless citizens of Peshawar have to bear the fact that a historic city of gardens and flowers is now turning into a cultural and ecological desert. The cactus certainly serves as a suitable metaphor of sorts for Peshawar ... a cactus city in all respects — without shade,colour and fragrance … “Peshawar IBachao TehrikI” anyone?
The writer is the founding member of ISarhad Conservation Network Uadilzareef@yahoo.com
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 16th, 2015
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