KARACHI: The Lyari river was the main focus and cause for concern during an engaging round-table discussion by various stakeholders about climate change and the environment during the launch of an in-depth report/study Environmental Scoping Study, The Lyari River —#SeeingTheUnseen on Wednesday.

The event was organised by Coca-Cola Pakistan in collaboration with the Karachi Port Trust (KPT), ministries of maritime affairs and climate change at the historic KPT building here.

The report is a study showing how Karachi is at a great risk as it falls among the top 10 cities in terms of area and population and visibly suffers from the urban sprawl. The open dumping of all types of solid waste into Karachi’s drains, rivers and coastal wasters is a common phenomenon.

Each day, it is through the Lyari outfall that 8,000 tonnes of solid waste is dumped into the harbour. The marine pollution control department is removing 2.5 metric tons of solid waste from the harbour daily, which is not enough as it resolves on three per cent of the problem. The debris removed includes approximately 40pc of plastic most of which is in the form of polythene bags.

Sherry Rehman says even if all Pakistan is turned green, it will still not impact global warming

It was agreed during the round-table discussion, ably moderated by the CEO of Tabadlab and an ex-policy adviser to the ministry of foreign affairs Mosharraf Zaidi and attended by Climate Change Minister Senator Sherry Rehman and Maritime Affairs Minister Senator Syed Faisal Ali Subzwari, that keeping the Lyari river clean is not the job of one institution.

A collective approach must be taken where the organisations involved must not just look at the removal of garbage and trash in the water but also close the tap at the community level by building a sense of consciousness and civic sense towards Karachi’s ecology.

KPT chairman S.M. Tariq Huda said the port connects Pakistan’s northern provinces and the overall Pakistan economy to the world. “Water security, therefore, is a national security issue that we must neither deny nor delay solving,” he said, while admitting that the problems don’t have an easy fix.

Rear Admiral Javed Iqbal explained Pakistan Navy’s take. “We are the principal stakeholders,” he said. “When harbour water gets polluted there is degradation. Plastics and polythene bags damage machines, which costs the tax payers and national security,” he said.

Shahid Khan of the Indus Earth Trust said that looking at fishing communities along the coasts of Balochistan and Sindh, they see destruction of livelihoods due to pollution and the rise in sea levels. “The Lyari river used to be a 17-km-long recreation spot, but it is not longer that,” he said.

Environmental activist Afia Salam said that the Lyari river was initially a perennial river. “But we retarded it and turned it into a nullah. It was plastic and untreated waste and its backflow comes into Chinna Creek where there fishermen say there is no longer any fish. The mangroves are also degrading and the communities there are living below the poverty line,” she said, adding that it is the KPT that is the biggest cause of this degradation.

Other stakeholders who aired their concerns regarding the environment included Favad Soomro of Engro Foundation, Vice President of the Coca-Coca Company, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Fahad Ahsraf, and representatives from Sindh Solid Waste Management Board, WWF-Pakistan, IUCN, Unilever Pakistan, ICI Pakistan.

Marton Vertes of The Ocean Cleanup, a global NGO, said that they tackle 1,000 most polluted rivers of the world, and that understanding the problem was the key to the solution.

“There is always a need for a consortium of partners to solve the problem,” he said, while referring to the stakeholders at the moot who were all on the same page regarding how to tackle the pollution in the Lyari river.

Speaking on the occasion, Minister Faisal Subzwari said that he was glad to see so many companies, who may have been part of the problem, shouldering the responsibility of trying to set things right.

“We are a victim of environment and climate change,” he said, adding that he learnt about the Marine Pollution Committee founded by a prime minister many years ago, but which meets after six years.

“It shows how much importance we give to the issue of environmental pollution. But in my capacity I have tried my best to change this,” he said. The ministry of maritime affairs is very focused towards environmental issues. I have sensitised the entire cabinet about it. I know we are already late but we have to start somewhere,” he said.

“We at the ministry of maritime affairs, KPT and Port Qasim are fully aware of the realities of today and the costs of cleaning. But I know also how to enhance operations,” he said, adding that he was committed to turning KPT around in one year.

Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said that she was also glad to see ownership and commitment of stakeholders.

“We are also fully committed to the cause. The flooding, global warming, climate change cannot be stopped but we can certainly adapt to the changes by how we manage our resources,” she said. “But you need to understand this as well that even if all Pakistan is turned green, it will still not impact global warming. It is a huge crisis from the skies, which is entirely man-made but Pakistan didn’t do it.”

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2022

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