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`Protected` mangrove forests being destroyed

January 29, 2011

KARACHI, Jan 29: A recent notification of the government declaring the province's mangrove forests as 'protected' seems to have no impact on the ground as gangs of land mafia continue to cut down these trees and reclaim the land to earn quick bucks, a survey of a coastal village near the Sandspit area revealed on Saturday.

In the absence of any law and order, members of the land mafia have literally made the residents of Kakapir village hostage in recent days by giving death threats to those speaking against the destruction of mangroves.

They allegedly destroyed and took over the office of a community-based non-governmental organisation which was running a boating service with the help of other NGOs to support the fishing community.

The only school in the village, being run by the NGO with the income from the boating service, has also been closed for 10 days due to the adverse conditions in the village, according to villagers.

Even water supplies through tankers are now being manipulated by local influential people involved in land-grabbing, they said. Dawn

Talking to , residents claimed that the police played the role of a silent spectator to the entire situation as gangsters roamed free and resorted to firing into the air every night.

“We are completely at the mercy of these hooligans. Instead of registering our complaints and taking action, they have registered FIRs against local people strongly opposing the destruction of mangroves,” said Haji Mohammad Siddiq, an old fisherman.“After ransacking the office, they also took away the engines of four boats. This has affected the livelihood of around 40 to 45 people, including women, involved in running the boat service,” he said.

It was unfortunate that the government was hardly providing any basic health and educational facilities to the villagers and the little done by private organisations was now being destroyed.

The boat service was initiated as part of eco-tourism initiatives with the support of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the United Nations Development Programme. The service was a great support to poor fishermen, especially in June and July when fishing is banned by the government.

The community, comprising 300 families, had been actively involved with the NGOs in the conservation and regeneration of mangrove forests in the area.

Abdul Ghani, representing the Fisherfolk Development Organistation whose office had been taken over by land-grabbers, said the gangsters of a local influential man destroyed “everything in his office, including the educational material and gave death threats”.

“The police have not yet registered an FIR, though the court has issued orders for it. I now fear entering my village.” Dawn

The team also visited a reclaimed site in the village, where the land facing large tracts of mangroves had been demarcated. Labourers were found busy taking out wood from the forest and filling the pits.Village residents said the entire area earlier covered by mangroves was now being plotted and sold out.

“Mangroves are being destroyed on a very large-scale in the city's coastal areas, including Rehri goth, Ibrahim Hyderi, Chashma goth, Lat Basti and the areas from Tikri village (union council Mauripur) up to Kakapir village (Baba Bhit union council),” said Ayub Shan, information secretary, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum.

“You will be shocked to see the level of devastation in these areas, especially in Rehri goth where mangrove forests which appear dense from a distance are completely thin from within if one has a closer look,” he further said.

The wood was used as a cheap source of fuel or to manufacture match-sticks, said Ayub.

The entire area of mangrove forests along Sindh's coastline is now 'protected' after a Sindh government notification last month. Now, the forest department can act against violations under the Forest Act, 1927.

However, the administrative control is still under the respective departments: the Board of Revenue (260,000 hectares), the forest department (280,000 hectares), and the Port Qasim Authority (64,000 hectares).

Terming the Kakapir village a big setback to conservation efforts, Rab Nawaz heading the WWF-Karachi office said: “It's a sad reflection on our society. I think the situation should be handled tactfully and the Karachi Port Trust should take a stand as the land comes under its administration,” he said, adding that mangrove forests must be under the management of a single department.

When contacted, a forest department official said the department was also facing resistance from land-grabbers, and an employee of the department was 'threatened' when he visited the site for a survey.

“Unfortunately, some local people are also supporting land-grabbers. Our employee has not been able to lodge an FIR against the offenders,” he said, adding that the government notification on mangrove forests would be publicised and a meeting held with all stakeholders on board.