Pakistan's government has decided to build cities on Arabian Sea islands with an aim to ease the pressure on the country's financial hub, Karachi. But according to experts, this decision would turn into an environmental disaster.
The government has also decided to bring both the islands, Bundal and Dingi off the Karachi coast under the federal authority. The announcement shocked a 70-year-old fisherman, Majeed Motani who said, "Our forefathers came to these islands centuries ago. Now, the government is trying to occupy them. It is a threat not only to our livelihoods but also to the island mangroves."
The fisherman is not wrong. If the government is planning to let more people settle in the islands, more places will be required for the added population and that will affect the mangrove regions too. According to experts, the mangroves along the uninhabitable islands play an important role in providing environmental protection to Karachi, which has more than 20 million population.
Bundal Island is part of the Indus Delta region, which is protected under the international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, "Ramsar Convention on Wetlands". The island is already under several environmental threats such as an increase in air and water pollution, exploitation of resources, hunting and sea-level rise, which is an extremely concerning issue for many small island nations including Fiji.
However, in September 2020, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he wanted to turn these Arabian Sea islands into huge real-estate projects and proposed an investment of $50 billion that will help create jobs.
Leaders of the provincial Sindh government and environmentalists have opposed the plan on Bundal Island. Murtaza Wahab, a spokesperson for the provincial government, said, "The federal government issued an unconstitutional ordinance. The Sindh government will resist it for the sake of our environment and our people."
Environmentalists are concerned about the coastal mangroves which help minimize the risk of natural disasters such as floods. It protects the mainland from natural threats like a tsunami.
Mahera Omar, a Karachi-based filmmaker, who covers environmental stories, explained that he had filmed the biodiversity of these islands for many years. "A short boat ride from the mainland will take you to once-pristine mangrove forests, which are now in a terrible shape. Tree stumps dot the shores, with mud crabs clinging to the remnants of the once-mighty mangrove," said Omar. She added that because of the habitat loss, many of Karachi's marine species are now facing extinction threat.
Arif Belgaumi, an architect, said that the construction of that scale in Bundal Island would destroy the mangroves and would lead to the damage of the seabed. "The housing project will involve the construction of roads, shorelines, bridges and other concrete infrastructure. It will pollute the area and damage the island's natural environment," added Belgaumi. According to the filmmaker, Omar, the government should reconsider the development plan to avoid an "ecological nightmare".