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Environment: Mangrove activists

December 02, 2012

Abdul Ghani and Abu Baker were two prominent members of the Kakapir community, a fishing village located near Hawkes Bay and Sandspit, who raised their voice against the cutting down of mangroves. Their fight to prevent the destruction of mangroves brought them in direct conflict with the land and timber mafia who were behind the destruction of a mangrove plantation where they now plan to build posh farmhouses. In May 2011, both activists were gunned down and their voice was silenced forever; their killers roam free as they are said to have the support of influential people. Land-grabbers not only killed the activists but burnt their boats and other equipment too.

Despite this tragedy, the fight to save the mangroves continues, with Abdul Ghani’s eldest daughter carrying forward his mission.

Ghani was not only working to save the mangroves but was also helping a number of poor fisherwomen. He had established a sea-kitchen, where seafood was cooked and sold to picnickers, profits from which were distributed among the fisherwomen.

Siddique, a local fisherman, says that Kakapir village was once covered by thick forest but “the greedy land mafia chopped off mangroves and developed residential bungalows there.” He added that villagers were not aware of the importance of mangroves and would cut them for firewood. After being provided with gas facility by an NGO this practice has declined. Siddique vowed that “the two deaths will not stop the fishermen’s campaign to save the eco system.”

The Arabian Sea is one of the richest seas in terms of productivity as 1,800 types of fish are found in this sea and the largest mangroves forest cover exists on its coast. Out of the 1,050km long coastline of Pakistan, 250kms fall in Sindh and 800kms in Balochistan. Of the eight types of mangroves found in the world, four types exist in Pakistan, mainly in Indus estuary, Miani Hor, Kalmat Khor and Jiwani areas. The coast of Balochistan is home to 10 per cent (7,500 ha) and Sindh coast to 90 per cent (160,000 ha) mangroves.

Mangroves are important breeding grounds for fish, shrimps and crab. Many birds, including peregrine falcon, the state bird of Pakistan, nest in the mangroves. Mangroves also serve as a protective wall against heavy storms and tides. Without them, low lying coastal communities are at risk of flooding and tidal waves.

Many factors contribute to the decrease in mangrove cover in Pakistan, among which cutting is probably the main cause. The indiscriminate cutting down of mangroves is fast depleting our coastal areas of the vast mangrove cover which was once among the largest mangrove forests in the world. Pollution has also disturbed the growth of mangroves; over 75 per cent of untreated sewage from Karachi is dumped into the sea. Land reclamation and port development is also a big threat.

Community development mobiliser, WWF Pakistan, Saveeta Khiani says that “mangroves are the lungs of the soil and sea” as they produce oxygen and keep the eco-system alive. She shared that the WWF maintains a mangroves watch and mangroves planting system and they have educated the community about the importance of mangroves.

“Unfortunately these forests are under major threat as people cut mangroves for firewood, fodder and in many cases they are cleared for construction,” she complains. It is a fact that the community has no alternate energy to fuel their stoves. According to a survey conducted by WWF in 2003 about 89 per cent of the fishermen community was dependent on mangrove forest, but now only nine per cent use mangroves for firewood.

Khiani said that mangroves grow on the coast where saline sea water and fresh water meet, but a large number of factories in the four industrial zones — Korangi, Orangi, Hub and SITE — “release effluents in the sea which pollutes it”. Previously Lyari and 11 other rivers carried rain water to the sea but the release of sewage water has put the mangroves under threat.

The NGOs are not the only ones striving to save our mangrove forests; there are some individuals who have taken up the task of creating awareness among their communities. Hopefully, Abdul Ghani and Abu Baker’s sacrifice will prove to be a catalyst for change.