Proposed City on Karachi’ Islands is Environmentally Unsustainable

by M. Wasim

Last year President Alvi on August 31 promulgated the Pakistan Islands Development Authority Ordinance, 2020 to establish Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) “for the development and management of the islands in the internal waters and territorial waters of Pakistan”.

A cursory look at the functions of the PIDA, as stated in the ordinance, suggests that the authority would act as another land-owning agency in Karachi and would perform functions of a fully empowered local government. It has also been empowered to retain, lease, sell, exchange, rent of otherwise dispose of any land vested in it.

The idea behind the Authority is to set up a city on the twin Islands of Karachi — Bundal and Buddo — which span over 12,000 acres, nearly the same area as Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority. It is claimed that the project will surpass Dubai after the islands are developed and are likely to attract an investment of around $50 billion (Rs8,190 billion) and create 150,000 jobs.

The city would comprise global attractions such as the world’s tallest building and largest shopping mall, cinemas, spas, golf clubs, schools, hospitals and other amenities to provide a modern global lifestyle to residents. The entire real estate developmenet project would be a ‘high security zone’, with its own drinking water produced from seawater via a desalination plant and a power generation plant to enable it to be self-sufficient for power.

The idea looks good on paper and sounds better in present socio-economic circumstances. But there is a big question mark on the environmental sustainability of the development of new city.

  1. Social & Ecological Woes

First, 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. Also a 2008 survey done by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) had recorded 96 fish and 54 bird species along with three species of marine dolphins and turtles here. 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.

Second no study has been carried out to assess the ecology of the area where these islands exist. The mangrove cover was about 3,349 hectares. It may be mentioned here that Korangi Creek is considered to be one of the worst affected water bodies in terms of destruction of this coastal region, caused by heavy discharge of hazardous effluent from Karachi’s industrial areas. The continuous flow of waste water from Cattle Colony has also contributed to pollution. Therefore the fragile ecosystem of this area is already under pressure from growing pollution which will be further intensified in case of any concrete development.

  • Water & Sewage Mismanagement

Desalination of sea water has been proposed for availability of portable water supply to the new city. However, the islands are surrounded by raw sewage and it is a foolishness to propose desalination at the same time. One cannot desalinate raw sewage, and if anybody insists on desalination it will generate more trash and pollute the water surroundings of the city island. That will make for a very smelly place to live. And the trash will be swept back up to the land with the tide, as it does on Seaview Beach in Karachi.

Waste water (sewage) management has never been simple in small islands. Besides, the waste-water treatment plants are full of problems, producing poor quality of treatment effluent that does not meet the effluent discharge standards. Where will the poorly treated waste water be disposed of? If surrounding seawater serves as a recipient water body, then, within a short span of time, the surrounding seawater will become heavily polluted.

  • Climate Change Implications

Global warming gases are on the increase. This means there will be accelerated rise in sea level. The sea level rise, combined with worsening storm surge, threatens to harm people, property, and ecosystems in coastal communities. The new city too will stand submerged under seawater.

Lastly the development on Bundal and Buddo would likely be consisted primarily of high-rise buildings, forming the ‘heat islands’ together with the heatwaves. That will ultimately make life on the islands inhospitable.

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