Urban plantations : When studying mangrove ecology, place them within the context of Karachi

Decision makers need to understand how precious mangroves are.


Farhan Anwar March 09, 2014
For Karachi, housing the most populated city of the country, holistic approach in mangroves research is most relevant. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: Mangrove ecology has been documented extensively in Pakistan, especially in Sindh, to assess its biodiversity, associated livelihoods and perceived threats but no research exists on their relevance within a specific geographical space.

For example, the mangrove cover along the Karachi coast, which can be termed as ‘Urban Mangroves’, needs to be placed in the context of this city — how this ecological resource fits within the urban planning dynamics of the city as a whole, what relationship exists between the mangroves ecosystem and the communities, how both are affected and, in turn, what can be done to benefit the people and the ecosystem. There is a need to adopt an approach that is holistic, taking into account the relevant environmental, financial and development considerations.

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According to a study documented in the Regional Technical Assistance for Coastal and Marine Resource Management and Poverty Reduction in South Asia, the existing mangrove forests in the Indus Delta can support 300,000 honeybee colonies during the May-June flowering season, which can translate into revenues amounting to Rs100 million every year.

Similarly, a World Bank Reconnaissance Mission Report in 1985 pointed out the possibility of identifying the suitability of the principal mangrove forests in the Indus Delta for pulp production and, if found feasible, setting up pulp industries near the mangrove forests. This possibility has not been evaluated.

A holistic approach in mangroves research will ensure that the decision makers, such as landowners, planners and development institutions, understand how precious this ecological resource can be in the long run. Sustaining mangroves can be a win-win situation. For Karachi, housing the most populated city of the country, this approach is most relevant as, despite sustained efforts to plant mangroves, the problem — continuous disappearance and shrinking cover of urban mangroves - is exacerbating.

This has much to do with the inability of considering the ecosystem as a part of the overall urban landscape. There is a need to put in the right context the possible land- and coast-based triggers for mangrove degradation — is it really land-based polluted discharges that are adversely impacting mangrove growth or does the greater existential threat lie elsewhere, such as cutting mangroves to make space for development projects along the coastline.

Mangrove forests in terms jurisdictional control are also segregated with no unified management control. How can all relevant agencies and institutions agree on a unified framework for action? These and related questions require a thorough analysis.

Strategic approach

The main components for this proposed strategic approach for mangrove conservation include, firstly, assessing the cause-effect interface between the mangrove ecosystem in Karachi, with a particular focus on Western backwaters, and the impacting human and natural factors in terms of their role in determining the sustainability of the ecosystem. Secondly, it includes framing recommendations for sustainable use and conservation of urban mangrove ecosystem along with exploring potentials for financial benefits.

This approach is different from other initiatives taken for mangrove conservation in that it employs a different frame of reference - one that considers Karachi’s urban mangroves as an ecosystem embedded within the wider urban growth process and aims to define a new relationship between the people and the resource, offering incentives to both.

The main deliverable will be a smart planning and implementation framework that focuses also on issues, such as food security, flood and erosion control, sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, recreation, etc. 

The writer is an urban planner and runs a non-profit organisation based in Karachi city focusing on urban sustainability issues. He can be reached at [email protected]

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2014. 

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