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Ecologically destructive projects on Karachi coast

November 27, 2006


SHELTER is one of the basic necessities of life while, according to governments estimation 50 per cent urban population now lives in slumps and squatter settlements. Providing shelter has become a major issue especially in Karachi due to speedy migration and higher population growth. But the government says, meeting the backlog in housing, besides replacement of out-lived housing units is beyond its financial resources.

Surprisingly, failing miserably to manage the affairs of 15-million mega city of Karachi, government has signed a $43 billion Diamond Bar Island City project with a Dubai-based company and has allotted 12,000 acres land in two islands--, Bundal and Budoo in Korangi Creek where fishermen are living for almost a century..

On the eastern side of Karachi-- between Karachi and Keti Bunder- the area extending from Korangi/ Rehri Creek at the north-eastern side is known as the Korangi Creek which further extends to Phitti, Gizri, Khuddi, Khai, Pitiani, Dobbo, Sisa, Hajamro, Turshian and Khobar creeks. Korangi – Phitti is an area of about 64,000 hector which is just over one-tenth of the tidal area of Indus delta. It comprises of dense mangroves and tidal creeks, mud flats and sand. The distance between Bundal to Gharo, the farthest end is about 32 miles.

Korangi creek is considered to be the worst affected area because of the large-scale discharge of effluent from Korangi, Landhi, and Karachi Export Processing Zone. In the Korangi industrial areas, 2500 industrial units including 170 tanneries dispose untreated waste into the sea.

A continuous flow of water with animal dung from Bhains colony is another source of pollution. Oil discharge in the Port Qasim area as a result of shipping activities also affect marine communities. In addition , large oil spills have been observed in the region that disrupt fishing activity, paralyse economic activity and eventually impact the local fishing community. According to details of the project, Port Qasim Authority (PQA) planned to develop Bundal and the adjoining Buddo (Dingi in local parlance) islands into an exclusive area for a diplomatic enclave, an offshore financial district, with hotels, recreational spots, water sports and a five star residential area.

According to the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997 and Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency Regulations 2000, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) should be carried out with public participation for any urban development and tourism of such large scale scheme. New highways or major roads with a total cost of Rs50 million and above such as the proposed bridge are also subject to an EIA.

The National Environment Policy 2005 is also based on guiding principles of sustainable development, equitable access to environmental resources, creation of demand for a better environment, respect and care for the environment, integration of environment into planning and implementation of policies and projects, extensive participation of communities, stakeholders and the public, accountability and transparency.

In addition, the area comes under jurisdiction of Coastal Zone Regulation (CZR) 1991 which consists of coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters. It extends on the beach up to 500 metres from the high tide line (HTL) and includes the land between the low tide land (LTL) and the HTL.

Within the CZR, setting up of new industries or expansion of existing industries, handling of hazardous wastes, discharge of untreated wastes and effluents, dumping of municipal wastes as landfill or otherwise, mining of sand, rocks and sub-strata materials and land reclamation except for the purpose of construction of ports, harbours, jetties, wharves, quays, bridges and sea links is forbidden.

CZR specifically lays down that reclamation for commercial purposes such as shopping and housing complexes, hotels and entertainment activities shall not be permissible. However, separate guidelines for construction of beach tourist resorts/hotels in CZR-III are given: a no development zone (NDZ) for 200 metres from the HTL and within the area between the HTL and LTL is defined. With the prior approval of the ministry of environment and forests, two-storey structures can be built in this NDZ However, it seems that as far as the government is concerned, the project will proceed, irrespective of the EIA

Karachi has a history of projects that have destroyed the local ecological system. When the British, under Sir Charles Napier, annexed Sindh in 1843, Karachi was a fishing village with a small-gated fort and a ditch or moat called Kalachi-jo-Kun. It had two gates, Kharadar (salt water gate) facing the sea and the other called Mithadar (sweet water gate) facing the Lyari River. Karachi's location on a backwater opening south between Cape Monze and the Indus delta was designed to be protected from the sea. The city was bounded by what was once the island of Kiamari but which, as a result of reclamation, is now joined to the coast. The natural harbour formed by a sand spit was mainly responsible for Karachi's evolution as a seaport

After the British occupation and prior to improvements, the backwater filled and emptied with every tide and at low water there was a stretch of mud flats and mangrove swamps. The backwater currents were a real asset on a coast prone to severe silting and it is to this that the port owes its early development.

Over the past six decades, many of the wetlands have been reclaimed by disrupting water sources or by drainage. The inter-tidal areas at Clifton Beach have been reclaimed for city expansion. Posh residential area of Karachi is now located on the coastline. A small amount of mangroves around the Native Jetty before the land reclamation started, used to serve as habitat for migratory birds.

Pakistan's second largest port, Port Qasim, has been established in the Korangi Creek area. The port is spread over thousands of acres of mangrove forest. Both, the port and nearby steel mills, are flanked by a new town, which houses people working in the two giant complexes. Thermal pollution and solid wastes originating from these sources are degrading the mangroves ecosystem.

The deepening and widening of a 45km long navigational channel in the Phitti Creek that connects the Port Qasim with the Arabian Sea, has apparently created a coastal erosion problem in the area and so far resulted in the massive destruction of barrier islands which used to act as the nature's first line of defence against coastal erosion.

The proposed Diamond Bar Island City project will bring people and commercial activity, putting more pressure on the natural resources. Once begun, the project is bound to disturb the ecological system around the islands and it is likely that the pollution will spread far beyond affecting the marine life in the area. Land is likely to be reclaimed from the sea as is already being done off the DHA coast. Bundal will be linked with the mainland through a bridge 1.5 km in length.

Buddo island is lush green and has a rich mangrove plantation. These mangroves will obviously have to go. Mangrove ecosystem is protecting the coast from wind and ocean currents. The Indus delta is low lying and bears full force of southwest monsoon. Mangroves provide natural protection to cyclones and hurricanes, thereby protecting coastal property from extensive damage.

The wildlife would also have to migrate when its natural habitat is disturbed. These changes will mean the end of the breeding grounds for fish, shrimps and green turtles. The project will severely affect fishermen settlement of Ibrahim Hyderi with a population of more than 120,000 people.

The project will create new business opportunities in the vicinity, settle a new community and change the existing demography. The new city will take away historical rights to vital resources-- water, air and biodiversity from local fishermen. Beside, EIA detailed Social Impact Assessment (SIC) is also required to assess as to how the proposed development will change lives of the local community. The indicators used to measure these potential implications include, (i) changes in community (ii) demand for public services, (iii) changes in employment and income.

Social Impact Assessment (SIC) offers a basis to achieve more equitable outcomes by involving the community, anticipating negative and positive social outcomes, and helping to formulate a means of mitigating adverse impacts. SIC provides approach to decision-making and assist indigenous people in sharing knowledge over the pace and direction of changes affecting them. The other prominent issues will be direct threats to ecologically important sites in the vicinity .

For economic development, government needs to concentrate more on the low cost housing scheme for low and middle class peoples. According to Economic Survey 2005-06, the housing backlog has been currently projected at 6.19 million. The improvement of slums and kachchi abadies and provision of affordable housing to shelter less population will not only help alleviate the urban and rural poverty but also increase the productivity of the low income population through improved public health.