Twin islands along Karachi’s coast are not viable for development

Updated 11 Oct 2020

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In this series of photographs a fisherman says a prayer at the shrine on Bundal island; a few makeshift huts on Bundal island; a green section of Bundal island and dogs on Buddu island wait to be fed by fishermen. — Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
In this series of photographs a fisherman says a prayer at the shrine on Bundal island; a few makeshift huts on Bundal island; a green section of Bundal island and dogs on Buddu island wait to be fed by fishermen. — Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: The twin islands of Bundal and Buddu, which have recently been taken over by the federal government through a presidential ordinance, are located at the mouth of Korangi Creek and spread over 10,000 acres.

The islands have escaped the onslaught of real estate developers twice over the past two decades, first in 2006 and then in 2013. They are in the limelight again when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government unilaterally took control of the islands from the Sindh government, which vowed to resist the centre’s move alleging that it was against the Constitution.

No study, however, has recently been done to assess the ecology of the area where these islands exist.

A 2008 survey done by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) had recorded 96 fish and 54 bird species along with three species of marine dolphins and turtles here. The mangrove cover was about 3,349 hectares.

“The fragile ecosystem of this area is already under pressure from growing pollution that will intensify in case of any [concrete] development. We should have an environmental audit of this place so that strategies could be developed for its protection. It has no potential for eco-tourism whatsoever,” said WWF-P’s regional director Tahir Rasheed.

The islands have no potential for eco-tourism as they are already under threat due to sea intrusion, mangrove deforestation, growing pollution

He also referred to Article 8 (A) of the Convention on Biological Diversity to which Pakistan is a signatory and required to respect and protect social, cultural stakes of indigenous people.

It may be mentioned here that Korangi Creek is considered to be one of the worst affected water bodies in terms of destruction caused by heavy discharge of hazardous effluent from Karachi’s industrial areas, including the export processing zone. The continuous flow of waste water from Cattle Colony has also contributed to pollution.

‘No-go areas’

Recently, a Dawn team, accompanied by some fishermen, visited the islands. As our boat chugged away from the jetty, the foul smell filling the air started losing its intensity, letting us notice a few seabirds among the crows dominating the skyline, the mangrove forests covering a sizable area and some mudflats. The water, too, changed its hues, indicating the ambient conditions in which it existed.

“These fertile channels are a source of livelihood for thousands of fishermen and serve as our fishing routes. We also use them as a stopover to relax,” explained Shafi, a fisherman.

He operates a wooden boat from Ibrahim Hyderi’s Jamote jetty, one of the 16 jetties located in the area, which receives untreated waste in its channels from the city before it gets discharged into the sea.

Within half an hour or so, we reached Buddu island, also called Dingi in local parlance, where the team was welcomed by a pack of dogs, occasionally fed by fishermen. The land as one could see from one end of the muddy shoreline was covered with wild bushes and grass. Also visible was a recently built concrete watchtower.

“That specific point is now a no-go area for fishermen as guards stationed there don’t let them cross over water from there,” shared Kamal Shah, a local activist representing the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF).

“We remember how the community was barred from fishing along Karachi’s coast, first in the Gizri Creek area and then along the Phutta island, the area where the Marina Club stands today.

“These kinds of restrictions are suffocating fishermen already facing hardships due to steep reduction in catch that they are forced to sell at low price, rising cost of living and operation of foreign trawlers,” he said, worryingly.

Saint’s annual urs on Bundal Island

Soon, the team left for the adjacent Bundal Island and reached there in an hour as the boat crew, better aware of wave conditions, took a long turn so that the vessel didn’t get stuck in shallow water.

We had to jump into waist-deep water to get to the shore that had ample evidence of mangrove trees that once existed there. Three empty makeshift huts stood some distance away, apparently erected by fishermen for resting purposes. Cautiously walking up a small hill, soon we were standing in front of a shrine with 11 graves. Two smaller ones were, perhaps, of two children.

“This place has been known to us as the shrine of Hazrat Yousuf Shah for a long time. In the coming days, the whole place will come to life when fishermen will visit the place in large numbers and hold the annual urs here,” said Mr Shah.

As far as one could look, the land was covered with grass and bushes. There was no soul, no sound except that of strong howling winds.

“These islands formed by the silt that freshwater brings into the sea are natural assets and should be preserved. They have been facing high degradation and erosion as discharge of freshwater downstream Kotri has almost stopped for many years. Factors like mangrove deforestation and growing pollution have contributed to the damage,” said senior nature conservationist Jahangir Durrani, adding that islands were not viable for development.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2020