ANEW study by Karachi University’s Institute of Environmental Studies shows high levels of pollution in the waters surrounding Pakistan’s second busiest harbour: Port Qasim. Testing water samples for organic and inorganic waste, the researchers concluded that the high levels of pollution endangered the area’s biodiversity. This is not news. It’s a confirmation of established and oft-repeated fears by local fishermen and environmentalists. In the early 1970s, when the port was being constructed, eight species of mangroves flourished. Today, only four remain. While there have been efforts to make up for some of the lost mangrove cover by the Forest Department and IUCN, it might still not be enough, especially not for a city like Karachi, which has hardly any forest cover.
Not only do mangroves lower temperatures, they are the first line of defence against soil erosion and intrusions from the sea, including cyclones and tsunamis. But in recent years, toxic waste in the form of untreated sewage, industrial effluent, and bloodied water drained from the nearby cattle colony, have proved to be the biggest challenge to the survival of mangroves. On a daily basis, around 472m gallons of waste are released into the sea; which poisons the surrounding vegetation and marine life. A hatching ground for fish, and critical to sustaining the delicate ecological balance of the area, mangroves that fall under the authority of the Port Qasim Authority and the Karachi Port Trust are the most endangered. The major coal-handling operations approved by the PQA this year will only add to the already considerable problems. Alarmingly, the board did not even wait for clearance from the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency before going ahead with its operations. Surely, our policymakers have to be more farsighted than this and to focus on the threat to the environment. After all, the well-being of our natural surroundings depends on more than just hopes and prayers.
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2018