FOR Karachi, the mangrove cover along its coastline is a thin line of defence against potential oceanic and climatic disasters. Known as guardian forests, mangroves absorb four times more carbon from the atmosphere than rainforests, and are 1,000 times cheaper per kilometre than building sea walls to protect against the effects of natural disasters, according to the UN. Besides, they are a natural nursery for marine life. Losing the mangrove forests would strip the city of what remains of its protective armour and leave its population exposed to every passing storm in the Arabian Sea. Unfortunately, we have refused to wake up to the calamity that faces us as mangroves are ruthlessly cut down. According to an IUCN report, in the 1980s somewhere between 615,000 and 700,000 acres of the Indus delta was covered by mangrove forests, but by the 1990s the area was reduced to about 395,000 acres. It is a travesty that such a rich natural resource in parts of Karachi is being destroyed by the land and timber mafias and their backers in government. These elements are cutting down mangroves in areas including Machhar Colony, Kakapir village, Rehri Goth and Ibrahim Hyderi. That the state is either apathetic, or in cahoots with these mafias, is evident by its lack of action against the land grabbers who were allegedly involved in the deaths of two environmental activists in Kakapir village a decade ago.
Moreover, while the Sindh government’s efforts at planting a record 1.172bn mangrove trees between 2008 and 2020, are commendable, they ring hollow in the light of its decisions to establish industrial and economic zones along with a coal power plant in protected forest area. Though mangrove reclamation and conservation are said to be a key component of the prime minister’s Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme, simply planting mangrove saplings won’t be enough if other factors such as deforestation and land encroachment are not tackled simultaneously. The authorities should rethink their approach and punish the land grabbers who play havoc with nature.
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2022