THE legal and constitutional aspects regarding the establishment of the Island Development Authority have been discussed convincingly by the Sindh government. But whether the two islands, around which a controversy has been built, remain with the provincial government or with the state, development on them should not be permitted in the larger interests of Sindh’s ecology. It has already been stated by fishermen’s organisations that if the development proposals go through, tens of thousands of fishermen will lose their livelihood and access to what is left of their fishing areas.
Working class loss of livelihood or dislocation has never mattered much to the ruling elite. Already, as a result of a developer-politician-bureaucrat nexus, agricultural and pastoral communities in the north of Karachi have been evicted through a process of coercion and targeted killings.
However, there are other reasons for not carrying out development on the Bundal and Buddo islands as other writers have mentioned: they are part of a delicate ecosystem which consists of mudflats and mangrove marshes where fish life is born and nurtured. In addition they are home to various varieties of fauna and flora of extreme beauty which have been captured in the work of architect Tariq Kaiser. They are also home to migratory birds such as storks, flamingos, pelicans, and the Siberian cranes.
The islands and the backwaters to the open sea are also a buffer between the city and the ocean during cyclones and protect the city from sea intrusion. It is estimated that if this buffer had not been available during the many cyclones that Karachi has experienced, and in which thousands of people have died, the city would have completely disappeared.
Carrying out development on the islands could have adverse effects.
Most cities develop regional plans to protect the ecology of the areas in which they are located so that the city and its inhabitants can breathe. The Karachi region does not have such a plan. The last one was made for the Karachi Master Plan 1975-85 but never implemented. During the intervening period, unplanned corridor developments have taken place along the National Highway up to Gharo, the Super Highway up to Hyderabad, and the RCD Highway up to Winder. So one might say that an unplanned regional ‘plan’ is already in place which was developed in an ad hoc manner on the basis of extracting maximum value out of land and without any social and environmental consideration. As a result, the only ecological assets left for the city are the Kirthar Range and the Karachi coastal backwaters. These have to be protected at all costs.
In 2004, the Musharraf government signed a memorandum with Dubai-based developers to sell off 16 kilometres of Karachi’s coast line for real estate development. The two islands were a part of it. This was the time when the Karachi Strategic Plan 2020 was being prepared. After considerable discussions, regulations regarding the coast were included in the plan. It was proposed that no development would take place on the seaward side of the existing roads, on mudflats which were the breeding grounds of sea life, and on mangrove marshes. New coastal development would only be carried beyond 150 feet from the high water mark.
These regulations guaranteed protection to Karachi’s fragile ecology from cyclones and storms, and were approved by the city council in 2006. If Sindh MNAs and MPAs have any love for the city, its ecology, and its people, they would see to it that these are implemented.
Given the terrain it will be an exceptionally difficult task in technological and logistical terms to carry out development on the islands. By employing foreign construction companies we might be able to achieve it but will we be able to maintain it? Will we be able to treat its sewage, provide energy and water? We cannot do this for our existing city. Should not that be our priority?
It has also been said that this development will provide homes to the people of Karachi — an extremely expensive way of providing homes which will only be affordable for the rich and fuel more speculation at the cost of the poor. In addition, housing can be provided on the large tracts of land belonging to the provincial and federal governments lying within or adjacent to the city that can be utilised for this purpose. In any case, once a firm decision is taken to leave the coast and its islands alone, other alternatives for development will certainly emerge.
It seems strange that those elected from Karachi are proposing development that will be injurious to the city and its people and it is also strange that a government whose prime minister has often spoken about the dangers of climate change and initiated impressive environmental projects in KP should support such a proposal.
The writer is an architect.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2020