People gathered at Frere Hall for the Climate March on Friday listen to speeches highlighting environmental challenges.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
People gathered at Frere Hall for the Climate March on Friday listen to speeches highlighting environmental challenges.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Struggling to survive amid worsening civic conditions and political bickering, the city of Karachi on Friday became part of a global movement on climate change when many people turned up at Frere Hall for a ‘Climate March’ and demanded that the government declare an emergency to address environmental issues.

Organised by a group of concerned citizens under the banner of ClimateActionPk, the protest walk coincided with the Global Climate Strikes called by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysforFuture movement, with over 5,000 climate strikes planned in 156 countries ahead of the UN’s climate emergency summit on Sept 23.

While the gathering at Frere Hall was as big as one would have expected, it was unique in many ways; it was driven not by any organisation but citizens and represented by a diverse crowd including a large number of young environmental advocates, especially those from schools.

People of Karachi participate in Climate March to become part of global movement

“It’s probably for the first time that the youth has demonstrated ownership [of] the environmental cause, which is a big step forward, though mute government response to growing civic issues is creating hopelessness among the masses,” said Sabeen, a mother of two schoolgoing children.

She hoped that the movement would be sustained in Karachi, building up pressure on the government to act.

Sharing her concern, Nahida Tariq, who was there with 10 family members, said the city had become so polluted that one could hardly feel and breathe fresh, pleasant air. “The city stinks. You can’t go anywhere without covering your nose either because of overflowing gutters or heaps of garbage. This is absolutely not what we or our children deserve. Where is the government?”

‘Jhanda green, mulk nahi’

Several participants expressed their support to the cause with signs that read “Corporate greed, climate disaster”, “No nature, no future”, “Planet over profit”, “Climate justice now” and “We want inclusion of marginalised communities and women in decision making”.

A catchy one, perhaps, was “Jhanda tau green hai, mulk kiyun nahi?” (Flag is green, why not the country).

Before the march, which started off around sunset, the organisers kept the audience engaged in speeches and songs, highlighting environmental challenges as well as demanding action from the government.

The audience was also given an ample opportunity to voice their concern, frustration, anger at the government with slogans demanding action to clean the city.

“Climate change affects all of us and we all need to join hands, highlight this issue and force the government to act,” said social activist Sheema Kermani while explaining why it’s important that people unite.

Tofiq Pasha, a senior environmentalist, said: “Enough harm is already done to environment. We must act now and save our land, its water bodies and trees,” he said, urging the youth to come forward and support the movement in large numbers.

Charter of demands

A charter of demands (CoD) shared during the event called upon the federal government to declare a climate emergency, ensure climate justice through a global coalition and ensure grass-roots level climate adaptation efforts.

The CoD of Karachi urged the provincial government to revise the master plan of the metropolis, launch afforestation and ecological restoration projects, reduce and regulate emissions, establish an urban waste management programme and shift to renewable energy sources and discourages fossil fuel-based production.

“There are many steps we can take at individual level to help save environment. We need to discourage use of plastic, reduce waste, go for recycling and increase plantation,” said Rimsha Zulfiqar, a student of SMB Fatima Jinnah School.

The event also educated youth about the projects that have displaced people in large numbers in the city and damaged environment.

In this context, activists Gul Hassan Kalmati and Dr Rukhman Gul Palari spoke about the case of Bahria Town whereas Sagheer Ansari shared how people had been rendered homeless after being evicted of their houses built along the Karachi Circular Railway project.

“They are being labelled as encroachers, though they have been in the courts for the past 12 years. The Japan International Corporation Agency had committed to relocate these people,” he said.

Among those who addressed the audience included social artist and teacher Yasir Husain and Zehra Zaidi of the Karachi Citizen Lab, lady health supervisor Noor Fatima, Fatima Majeed of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and journalist Afia Salam.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2019