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Study on pollution affecting Karachi coast launched

Updated September 24, 2017

KARACHI: A comprehensive study was launched to assess the scale of pollution affecting the entire city coast, officials at the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) told Dawn on Saturday.

“It will be the first time that we will have a complete picture of Karachi’s coast in terms of pollution affecting it,” said Hina Baig, a senior scientist at the NIO.

According to her, the work was initiated after a recent analysis showed presence of disease-causing bacteria in large numbers at various spots of Karachi coast. “Apart from the steps required at the government level, it is important that beach visitors avoid littering and adopt basic hygiene practices, for instance, washing hands before eating, to prevent infection,” she explained.

NIO Director General Dr Asif Inam said the ministry of ports and shipping was requested to facilitate the research. “The study will help the government prioritize areas for action and guide on policy,” he said, adding that Pakistan was a signatory to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 under which it had the obligation to control land-based pollution.

Referring to beach cleaning activities, he said such steps were meaningless unless the sources causing pollution were checked. “Everybody knows the city has no sewage treatment plant as the entire effluent, including the hazardous industrial waste, is being discharged into the sea.

“The case of Clifton beach, however, is more serious as it is frequented by huge crowds. Besides the waste coming from the Lyari river, untreated waste from nearby residential areas as well as restaurants directly goes into the sea here,” he said.

These conditions, he said, aggravated in winters when waste from the Gizri creek also entered the Clifton beach due to change in current movement.

Continued dumping of waste into the sea often caused a navigational hazard in the deep sea. In 2006, he said, plastic bags in the deep sea stuck in the air conditioning system of a cruise and failed it. “That was in 2006 so you can imagine what would be the state of sea pollution right now [in the absence of any government efforts to develop a mechanism for waste treatment and disposal],” he said.

Polluted Clifton beach

A 2016 study conducted by the NIO in collaboration with the Dadabhoy Institute of Higher Education, Karachi, showed presence of pathogenic bacteria at nine sites along the coast including three sites representing Korangi creek, Gizri creek and Chinna creek.

The study based on the analysis of sediments, water, flora and fauna found the Korangi creek station most polluted with coliform and other pathogenic bacteria. It also specifically mentions beach spots, such as McDonald’s, Sea view, Village, Sahil Avenue 2 and Do Darya, where coastal water was found to be contaminated with domestic and industrial effluent.

“These spots can’t be considered safe for public use. The situation urgently demands community participation to improve quality of coastal waters,” the study pointed out, citing examples of industrialized countries where water-borne diseases had been effectively controlled through improved means of sewage collection, treatment and disposal.

The study found that industrial effluent and untreated municipal waste and sewage were polluting the creek areas through the Malir and Lyari rivers.

The research, authored by Aneela Shaheen, Hina Saeed Baig and Prof Dr Shahana Urooz Kazmi, highlighted that the contaminated water could not only cause infection but also affect marine animals and, consequently, adversely affect human health.

Turtles under threat

Meanwhile, a number of students, civil society representatives and government officials participated in a beach cleaning activity at Sandspit to mark the International Coastal Clean-up Week.

The event was organized by World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P).

Mohammad Moazzam Khan, technical adviser to the WWF-P, said the Sandspit beach could be a rich habitat for green turtles if the site remained undisturbed and safe as more than 3,000 turtles nest here. “The beach has become very vulnerable due to unregulated developmental activities, encroachments as well as plastic litter, discarded glass and leather that interfere with their nesting cycle,” he explained. According to him, Karachi generates around 12,000 metric tonnes of solid waste a day, with most of it finding its way into the sea through drains and rivers.

Engineer Zahoor Ahmad, assistant director of Sindh Solid Waste Management Board, said that though his organization had limited resources, it was trying to devise a better system for waste collection and disposal.

Dr Babar Khan, regional head of Sindh and Balochistan WWF-P, spoke about the role turtles played in marine ecology. “They maintain healthy sea-grass beds and coral reefs, providing key habitat for other marine life, helping to balance marine food webs,” he observed, adding removing turtles from waters negatively impacted the marine ecosystem.

He also called for government measures to protect beaches and create awareness on the rationale use of plastic and to promote the use of recyclable materials.

Dr Mohammad Khursheed, Director General of South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP), Sri Lanka, also took part in the drive that concluded with the distribution of certificates among students.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2017