The loss city's freshwater bodies over the past three decades has disturbed the port city's overall natural atmosphere and beauty.
"There were around 20 freshwater wetlands in different areas [of Karachi]," recalled World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan's technical adviser Muhammad Moazzam Khan. There were different-sized lakes in parts of the city, such as Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Federal B Area, PECHS, Mauripur, Orangi Town, Manghopir and along the Northern Bypass. "What do we see now? Just residential areas or gutters. Urban wetlands are considered assets of a city and of a nation," he said.
Khan still remembers thousands of birds at a lake located in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. "It was a beautiful and large lake but it has disappeared now," he said. People used to catch freshwater fish from the Lyari River even in the late 1960s. The last crocodile was seen near Gulshan-e-Iqbal in 1994, according to Khan.
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"The water bodies melt down temperature through evapotranspiration," explained Javed Ahmed Mahar, an environment expert and the provincial conservator of the Sindh wildlife department. Apart from the Lyari and Malir rivers, there were small streams and freshwater creeks in Karachi, he added, saying that natural beauty keeps a friendly environment intact.
"Karachi still has wetlands but they have been converted into polluted water," Mahar said. Land grabbing has destroyed the city's natural beauty and its environment,' he said, adding that it shows that the residents have lost their civic sense. "You can see industrial waste but not freshwater bodies," Mahar pointed out, highlighting areas in Keamari and Korangi.
"People used to catch freshwater fish from Manghopir," said senior environmentalist and former director of the Karachi Zoological Garden, Dr AA Qureshi. He also remembers lakes in different areas of the city. He said that citizens have diverted water sources, questioning whether the city still has fresh water.
Speaking on the recent heatwave in Karachi, Qureshi said that it was nature's revenge on man. "What have we done to nature in last two to three decades?" he questioned. "We have destroyed it."
Qureshi also remembers 350 Banyan trees along MA Jinnah Road. He said that around 70,000 native trees were cut down between 2001 and 2010. He said that senior environmentalists, including himself, warned authorities some 30 years back to take precautionary measures but no one took their concerns seriously.
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Environmentalists claim that thousands of birds were seen over these water bodies. "We have lost our birds as well," said Khan.
Mahar also believes that the first indicators of change in the environment can be seen in birds and animals. "We had mortalities of peafowl in Tharparkar last year," he claimed, saying it was a change in the environment, but no one noticed. "How can people survive when birds and animals can't live in such congested environments?" he questioned.
Commercial activities annoy environmentalists who say that all residents will face dire consequences in the coming years. "It's a manmade disaster not natural," said Qureshi about the current heatwave.
"These wetlands are highly productive areas," Khan explained. "It is the responsibility of the government to maintain the remaining ones." He said that urban wetlands not only create beauty but also make the environment livable.
Experts say it is high time to revisit urban planning in the city and planners should learn from the impact of the heatwave on Karachi. They also criticised the government for not taking any serious steps to save the environment and ecology of Karachi.
"The people of Karachi have lost body resistance," Qureshi said. "They are so away from the natural environment. They don't have trees and lakes."
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2015.
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