Concrete can never be Alternative of Mangroves to save Karachi from Cyclones

by M. Wasim

During his recent visit to Karachi Prime Minister Imran Khan asked Sindh government to “reconsider its tough stance” on the Twin Islands City (Bundal and Buddo) at eastern coast of Karachi.  A day earlier his Maritime minister revealed an ambitious project naming Karachi Coastal Comprehensive Development Zone (KCCDZ) to be built on the western belt. Both projects aim to involve enormous concrete infrastructure and developments particularly on areas where mangrove safeguard Karachi coastal belt from cyclones and sea-level rising.

 Mangroves are the first line of defense against tropical cyclones, strong surges, tsunamis, and other natural calamities impacting the coast and the deltaic region. They have been continually protecting Karachi for centuries. Therefore it really makes no sense to replace the mangrove cover with cement and mortar for the sake financial greed, as that would invite serious threat to Karachi coastal security.

Today when a new cyclone “Gulab” is bullying again Karachi city, it is time for both federal and provincial governments to think again about their ambitions.   

Previous Cyclones & Impacts

An appraisal of the last cyclones and their impacts in the Arabian Sea is enough to open the eyes of both governments.  

On the 21st May 2021, the cyclone “Taukatae” hit the coastal belt adjacent to Indian Gujarat state and Pakistan’ Sindh. Reportedly 16 people died and more than 16000 houses were destroyed due to the “Taukatae” in Gujarat. While the Karachi city remained unharmed despite sizzling temperature of 43.5 degree centigrade. Only a dusty thunderstorm, gusty winds and moderate rain were recorded under the influence of that cyclone.

Similarly on the 28th of October 2019, the Cyclone “Vayu” hit the same region only to hurt Karachi with 180 houses destroyed and some 500 people displaced. But in India it brought really havoc affecting 6.6 million people, including 300,000 people evacuation in Gujarat. Reportedly six people lost their lives and in total $140,000 worth of damages were recorded in India due to “Vayu”.

Comparative Mangrove Covers

Gujarat has the longest coastline in India i.e. 1,600 km and it hosts the second largest Indian mangrove cover some 1,140 sq km. While the shoreline of Pakistan is approximately 990 km long and 40-50 km wide. But its total area covered by mangroves is 32,000 hectare, of which 129,000 hectare lies in Indus Delta and approximately 3,000 hectare on the coast of Baluchistan. As the Karachi and Pakistan coastal areas has bigger mangrove cover therefore aren’t got as affected as Indian state of Gujarat, whenever a cyclone or natural calamity hit their coast.

That’s why India has been increasing mangrove forests in Gujarat since the last few years. As the state of Gujarat increased their mangrove cover by 1107 sq km in 2015 and then 1177 sq km in 2019. In contrast Pakistan intends to build new cities infrastructure by inviting real estate tycoons and builders.

The New Twin Islands City

The mangrove cover is about 3,349 hectares area surrounds Bundal and Buddo islands. The area in the Arabian Sea is an ecologically important site as it is part of the Indus delta where the mangrove forest cover is a breeding ground for shrimp and other shellfish. Then nearly three million fisherfolks depend on these islands for various fishing-related activities that make up their livelihood. Developing a city here will destroy the coastal ecosystem and affect the environment as well as Pakistan’s fishing industry.

Karachi Coastal Co­m­prehensive Develop­ment Zone

The Karachi Coastal Co­m­prehensive Develop­ment Zone is said to be spread over 640 hectares or 1,581 acres on the western backwaters marsh land of the Karachi Port Trust. This new city is set to be built on reclaimed area on two large mangrove forests, leading to displace one of the oldest slums Machhar Colony and half a million residents . Moreover it is the area where Lyari River brings raw industrial, human and animal waste of half of the metropolitan. And, hosts a vital but unfortunately non-functional sewage treatment plant TP3. Concrete construction on this area means ruination of sizable mangrove land and sea erosion on coastal belt.    

In a word Pakistan coastal belt is heavily dependent on these mangroves forests to safeguard the ecological balance. Concrete can never be an alternate of mangroves.

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Editorial, Infocus

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