Row over islands

The islands are protected under the Ramsar Convention as integral wetlands

October 10, 2020

Karachi is one of the few megacities of the world with a population in excess of 22 million. To accommodate this growing population, the city too needs to ‘grow’ and develop enough space. But does it mean it can do so at the cost of the livelihood of its poor fishermen and ecology by using land off its coasts?

In a continuation of its policy of building new cities, the government now plans to develop the comparatively small Bundal and Buddo islands just off the coast of Karachi. President Dr Arif Alvi has already signed an ordinance creating the Sindh Island Authority which will develop and manage these islands and the communities built over them. While Federal Minister Ali Zaidi has promised that an environmental impact assessment will be carried out and housing communities will not be built on these islands amid other noises of planting twice as many mangroves elsewhere, the fact remains that development of these largely uninhabited islands would work towards destroying the very delicate ecology around Karachi. The islands are protected under the Ramsar Convention as integral wetlands. The poor fishermen, who use the islands as a staging area, are resigned to losing a critical source of their livelihood but are prepared to fight anyone for their rights.

The Sindh government, which is already under fire in wake of heavy damage caused by flooding from torrential monsoon rains, is firmly on the defensive. Having fought off talks of the Centre taking over its crown jewel, Karachi, under certain constitutional provisions, it has now sounded off plans to fight this latest attempt to wrest land from it — irrespective of how it looks the other way as land elsewhere is grabbed. The move has also raised concerns among other parties of the province, including those who do not support the ruling PPP. With the country faced with an impending political upheaval, the timing of this move may only cost the federal government precious allies. Quite clearly the PTI government has the policy to raise alternative structures rather than fixing existing ones and herein may lie its and Karachi’s undoing.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2020.

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