Trees and mass transit

18 Oct 2018


PAKISTAN’S biggest city has suffered long-standing transportation woes. With its expanding population, and a large number of privately run transport vehicles on its roads, Karachi has witnessed rising traffic congestion, air and noise pollution, risk of accidents, and health and environmental hazards over the years. The cost of transport and fuel also forms a major chunk of daily expenditures. So when in 2016 it was reported that the city would have its own mass transit system — comprising colour-coded lines as part of a plan that the Japan International Cooperation Agency conceived in 2012 — the city’s long-suffering citizens were thrilled. Other than fulfilling practical concerns, public transport also helps in reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions and the pollutants that create smog, substituting numerous separate emissions-producing automobiles with fewer transit vehicles that generate less pollution on a per person basis.

But what happens when thousands of trees are removed to make way for such a transport system? Recently, the Sindh government presented an environmental impact assessment report of the 23km-long Red Line at a public hearing. One of the major concerns articulated was the chopping down of approximately 23,693 trees; that is a massive number for a city already deprived of greenery. Due to the lack of trees, extreme weather conditions can have a disastrous impact on the city. In 2015, Karachi witnessed its deadliest heatwave, resulting in the death of over 1,000 people. For its part, the authorities have given their assurance that the majority of trees being cut down will be ‘compensated’ with replantation drives; and 300 indigenous species might be uprooted and replanted, as recommended by the forest department. Similar concerns were raised when 7,321 trees had to be cut down for the construction of the Green Line, but authorities reasoned that 6,321 of those trees were of the invasive conocarpus and eucalyptus species. One hopes the authorities know how to achieve a balance between development and environmental needs. Greenery in urban areas, too, is in the public interest.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2018