‘It is difficult to stop the desire for profit’

Published November 11, 2023
Environmentalist Tariq Alexander Qaiser talks to Ayesha Tammy Haq on Friday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Environmentalist Tariq Alexander Qaiser talks to Ayesha Tammy Haq on Friday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: A thought-provoking conversation between architect and environmentalist Tariq Alexander Qaiser and media personality Ayesha Tammy Haq on the intertidal ecosystems of the Indus delta had the discerning audience’s undivided attention at the Mohatta Palace Museum on Friday evening.

The event was part of a series of programmes to be held to commemorate 25 years of the museum.

The discussion was interspersed with videos that Mr Qaiser has made on the subject.

In reply to the first question put to him by Ms Haq about his reason for going into the wilderness, he said when you go out into the wilderness there is the sense of oneness, a sense of belonging, an openness of communication. What took him out there was that he’s always sought places of solitude. He found the forests accidentally and it’s been six or seven years of exploring and understanding the channels during which he realised that “none of us knew that these existed”.

Tariq Alexander says coastal communities are aware of mangroves importance, but they have serious existential issues

Mr Qaiser said when he started taking photographs and visiting these forests, the understanding came along that there were lacunas… and there was quite of woodcutting. When he witnessed it he felt it was imperative that he shared the fact that they were incredible trees that were being cut. “I first photographed it in 2011. In 2016, I witnessed it being cut. I went home and I told my wife I couldn’t go in anymore. For six months I couldn’t get on a boat and go to that forest. I started again because the mission was important to communicate. It’s difficult to stop the desire for profit.”

The moderator then asked about the problems faced by the poorest of the poor in relation to the woodcutting business. Mr Qaiser said a friend of his went into the mangroves. He saw woodcutters cutting [trees] and challenged them. They turned around and said what could they do, they owed someone a lot of money. They had to pay off a loan so they had to bring certain amount of wood back home. “These are serious, existential issues that need to be addressed in our society. It is not the woodcutters who are taking this for profit.”

At that point Ms Haq brought up the issue of developers and parts of the mangroves that have been destroyed for development. Mr Qaiser said, “It’s complicated, not simple by any standards. It’s a conversation that’s necessary among stakeholders who can do something about it.”

Then he switched to showing another video which was on an urs on Bundal Island. Mr Qaiser said, “Our country, our cities and our waters are not for the ones with power. There has to be a new system of equity and balance. That’s one thing that nature teaches you. Nature is dispassionate. We need to have equality and equanimity.”

The next video was about the importance of mangroves vital for marine life.

The moderator raised the question whether the coastal communities are aware of mangroves’ importance. He said, “What do you do when you push a society to exist to survive, when your choices are the immediate survival of your children. We have reached the verge of creating a society of great problems. I think it can be resolved but it needs to be addressed and action needs to be taken. The communities are aware, they value their forests. But the survival is for the immediate present.”

This was followed by the touching stories that the environmentalist told about camels and a lovely video that he showed highlighting bioluminescence.

Earlier, the managing trustee of the museum Hameed Haroon informed the audience of the 13 events to be organised for the season [beginning with the one on Friday]. He thanked the trustees of the museum for their constant support and paid tribute to Hamid Akhund who went through terrible illness and is now on his feet again. It was Mr Akhund’s idea to put together something to commemorate 25 years of the museum.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2023

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