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Concrete jungle threatens mangroves on Pakistan island

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Published on: 11/23/2020 – 03:12 Modified: 11/23/2020 – 03:11

Karachi (AFP)

A short boat ride from the shores of Karachi, mangroves grow along the quiet coves of an uninhabited island that conservationists say offers vital coastal protection to Pakistan’s largest city.

But the calm of Bundle Island, which is home to a few camels, is under threat, with Prime Minister Imran Khan determined to make it a huge real estate project to ease pressure on the expanding megalopolis of 20 million people.

The $ 50 billion housing development pitted regional leaders against central government, with local activists and lawmakers accusing the prime minister of breaking environmental promises.

“Let nature have its rest and (don’t) dream of these big and big cities,” said Mahera Omar, an environmental filmmaker from Karachi who enjoys kayaking around Bundle and roaming the island’s mangroves.

“We are all very tired of our concrete jungle. We all want to get away, come out in the open,” she added.

Coastal mangroves act as a natural barrier, absorbing wave energy and limiting the extent of flooding.

“These islands form a barrier against storm surges and tsunamis. Their preservation is vital for the preservation of Karachi,” Arif Belgaumi, architect and town planner, told AFP.

The city is already prone to flooding and suffered catastrophic flooding during this year’s record monsoon when dirty, chest-high water filled the streets.

Bundle Island is inundated during particularly high tides, so any construction would also require environmentally damaging remediation work that could have ripple effects on Karachi, Belgaumi added.

But Khan’s administration said the project would create thousands of local jobs and provide much-needed relief from Karachi’s chaotic expansion – not to mention new tax revenue for Pakistan’s cash-strapped coffers.

A bill – immediately challenged by the provincial government of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital – would turn Bundle and the neighboring island of Buddo into federal territories.

– ‘It will bring devastation’ –

Critics say the plan goes against the green promises of Khan, who spoke out on the dangers of climate change and freezing the construction of several coal-fired power plants in favor of renewable energy projects, mainly hydroelectric dams.

The government also unveiled a national effort to plant 10 billion new trees by 2023.

“He is proud to recognize that global warming is reality … (But) when it comes to Sindh province, the people of Sindh, his point of view is changing,” said the government spokesman of Sindh. , Murtaza Wahab.

Khan’s top climate change adviser, Malik Amin Aslam, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Bundle Island, located in the Arabian Sea, is uninhabited except for a few camels and other creatures.

However, it has been hit by urbanization – the sandy beach facing Karachi is strewn with plastic and medical waste that wash ashore from the megalopolis.

Mangroves are considered an important part of Karachi’s environment, which has suffered decades of heavy pollution and neglect, with the trees acting as natural filters that purify water and protect baby fish.

“The people of Karachi actually consider the mangroves to be… a natural part of their life,” Wahab said.

“That’s why we’re so territorial about it. That’s why we feel so passionate about these mangroves.”

The redevelopment proposal has faced years of opposition from critics who say it would be too expensive and complicated to redevelop Bundle Island.

A group of fishermen from Karachi, who were casting nets in the island’s relatively cleaner waters, have also taken legal action against the project.

“We will become unemployed,” said Kamal Shah, a spokesperson for the fishermen.

“They say building a city will bring development. It will bring devastation.”

The waters here are already suffering, he said, with Karachi’s dilapidated drains dumping untreated sewage into the sea.

Rab Nawaz, senior program director at the World Wildlife Fund, said the development of Bundle Island would trigger an “environmental catastrophe”.

“Bundle is a nesting place for turtles, dolphins. There (are) mangroves which are protected forests in Pakistan,” he said.

“Building a huge infrastructure on it is going to destroy all of this.”

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