By Jamil Junejo
Sea level rise is one of horrifying offshoots of the climate change. It has risen reportedly by 1.7 mm/year in the 20th Century, globally. Since 1993, the rate has accelerated to 3.1mm/year. Such sea level rise has been posing serious threats to human settlements especially in coastal areas. Cyclones and Tsunamis coupled with the sea level rise will prove more disastrous due to increased height and intensity of the tides. Mangroves forests are the natural shield to avert a heavy loss by the possible heightened waves, cyclone and Tsunami.
Mangroves forests, apart from being the breeding grounds for fish, mating ground for migratory birds, also provide livelihood source to fishermen. Their roots and stems absorb shocks of the tides and make them less violent. The recent Tsunami in Japan could have caused more losses if the mangroves forests had not existed there.
Despite such great significance of mangroves, these sea plants in Pakistan are left most neglected. The groves of mangroves are decreasing day by day owing to various underlying and immediate causes, both natural and manmade. So far, the area of mangroves has been reduced to 86,000 hectares from 600,000 hectares, recorded some years back.
Apart from receding river Indus water, inflow of industrial pollutants, navigational activities, livestock grazing, usage as fuel wood, fodder and erosion of creeks, has posed major threats to mangroves forests of Indus Delta. There are four mangroves species existing in the Indus delta, which include indigenous Avicennia Marina, Rhizophora mucronata, Ceriop tagal and Aegiceras corniculatam. Most of the mangroves species in Pakistan cannot survive without fresh water. Only Avicenna marina is salt-resilient, according to marine ecologists.
Inflow of fresh water downstream Kotri has decreased from 150 million acre feet (maf) annually as recorded in 1880 to negligible volume—less than 10 maf– today. As a result, the deltaic area has become more vulnerable to natural calamities. Two million acres of cultivable land has been encroached upon by the sea. Hundreds of thousands people of delta are said to have migrated to other areas including Karachi coastline. They are called as the refugees of climate change. In this backdrop, the social and economic vulnerabilities of the deltaic people coupled with erosion of the coast and rise in sea level would maximize the effects of any upcoming cyclone or Tsunami.
With regard to immediate threats to the mangroves, land grabbing mafia has been unendingly encroaching upon the coastal land through reclaiming by earth filling. Many acres of mangroves land has been reclaimed in the name of developing model villages in the administrative limits of Keamari and Bin Qasim towns of Karachi, creating threats to the local communities. Land grabbers, enjoying backing of certain government officials have destroyed wide area by cleansing the mangroves forests, making the land for commercial purposes. Sadly, this all is happing despite the fact that the year 2011 has been declared as the International Year of Forests. Sindh government has declared mangroves as protected forests. The concerned authorities such as Port Qasim Authority, Karachi Port Trust, Defence Housing Authority and Sindh Forest Department and Government of Sindh itself, despite being main stakeholders are silently watching the depletion of mangroves forests.
Against all this, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) has launched an effective campaign, carried out various activities ranging from writing letters to civil society organizations, concerned authorities, making appeals to Asian Human Rights Commission, Supreme Court of Pakistan, organized protest demonstrations, staged hunger strikes and arranged ‘Short March’ of three days, which was participated by hundreds of women and men, demanding further stoppage the destruction. As a result earth-filling and mangroves cutting has been halted in Sandspit area but the threat to mangroves is still looming large.
Last year PFF had also launched a 15-day long march, starting from Indus tail end Kharochhan to Jamshoro covering more than 250-km to observe World Rivers Day on March 14, 2010. The event attracted thousands of fishermen hailing from marine and inland waters and civil society organizations, demanding restoration of the river Indus. The purpose of the march was to sensitize the government authorities to ensure flow of at least 35-maf water downstream Kotri to save Indus Delta and avoid further human displacement.
Despite all these efforts, the Indus Delta and mangroves are at the peril. There is dearth of fresh water in downstream Kotri and land mafia is still active in cutting mangroves forests. While keeping in view the social, econominc, environmental and climatic significance of the mangroves forests and Indus delta, PFF still struggles. PFF wants first, a complete check on land mafia and a firm action against the elements involved in earth filling and reclamation of coastal land. Secondly, the government should ensure disposal of industrial affluent in the sea after proper treatment.
Besides, PFF suggests the government should impose a ban on any construction within the 200 meters of the coastal area. Civil society organizations have also been urged to join campaign to make concerned government departments accountable and responsible to play their role in protecting and conserving the mangroves forest.
In the current scenario of sea level rise due to climate change, the conservation and protection of mangroves should be unquestionably on the high priority of the government and civil society. If the degradation of Indus Delta and deforestation of mangroves is not given checked, the natural disasters coupled with social and economic vulnerabilities will prove most disastrous for us in future.