KARACHI: Scores of date palms, bent towards the ground as if they are struggling to survive, can be seen to the right if one happens to drive toward Do Darya from the Village Restaurant at Sea View.
The trees are a result of a plantation drive conducted by the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) on Khayaban-e-Abubakar and Khayaban-e-Faisal in Sector E-8 in DHA Phase VIII. The date trees were planted despite several such failed ventures in Karachi in the past by the Sindh government, besides several other land owning agencies of the metropolis and the DHA itself.
According to environmentalists, the climate of Karachi is not suitable for date trees, which is the reason all earlier attempts to plant them on roads of the provincial capital failed.
At least 300 date trees that were planted by the provincial government between Civic Centre and Safoora Chowrangi on University Road last year completely dried up, costing around Rs60 million to the national exchequer. The recently planted trees in DHA also appear to be losing their vitality and at least four of them have already fallen.
DHA Horticulture Department Additional Director Lt Col (retd) Toqeer Mehmood told The Express Tribune that the trees were planted three months back by the directorate of DHA Phase VIII and the horticulture department had no role in the plantation. He refused to further comment on the issue. However, a source in the horticulture department said that along with date trees, neem and amaltas trees were also being planted in the vicinity.
“Basically, the DHA phases I to VII had a single horticulture department and the Phase VIII and DHA City, which is Phase IX, had a separate directorate,” the source said, adding that all the plantation work was carried out by that directorate.
The source disclosed that the separate directorate was merged with the rest of the DHA last month. However, the plantation was carried out before the merger.
“The contractor hasn’t followed the procedure of plantation for these date palms,” the source said, adding that the chances of their survival are bleak.
No official of Phase VIII directorate was available for comments.
According to horticulturist Tofiq Pasha, coconut and date trees were planted several years ago on the main Sea View Avenue, now called Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenue, all of which died. “After failing to plant it along the Sea View Avenue, the authorities planted coconut saplings wrapped in green net in plastic drums and dug the drums into the sand on the beach,” Pasha said. “They also died of course.”
It is the taxpayers’ money that is being spent on the whims of those in power, the horticulturist said.
When asked why palm trees survive in coastal areas of Sri Lanka and Thailand, Pasha said they were tropical places which received heavy rainfall. It yearly rains 300 inches or more in these places, he added. Scanty rainfall and salt-laden winds at the Karachi coast make it difficult for the trees to survive, he said.
According to Pasha, Sri Lanka and Thailand were tropical coasts of the Indian Ocean. “Of course, coconuts grow there,” he said, adding that the coasts of Arabian Sea were sub-tropical coasts that received scanty rainfall. “It’s a desert; no rain almost. Our coast line gets battered for five months with high velocity, salt-laden winds.”
Regarding Dubai, Pasha said air in Dubai does not have as much content of salt as Karachi does, due to which palm trees survive on its coast. He added that a resilient plant like conocarpus can also not survive in the salt-laden coastal winds of Karachi.
The expert lamented that the authorities uproot what nature has provided and replace it with everything else under the sun. “The ipomoea creeper [morning glory] that grows here naturally, can be grown on fences on the divider of the avenues. Another row of this can be planted along the boundary walls of apartments. They will climb up if provided support of wire or string and cover the walls. They have pretty purple flowers and they will also help reduce heat absorbed by walls,” he explained. He also mentioned peelu as one of those trees that may survive if planted near the coast.