Kashif Hafeez Siddiqui

Saplings of hope

In Miscellaneous, pakistan on May 14, 2010 at 4:05 am

By Naufil Shahrukh

Is the humankind passing through a self-destructive phase? Are we trying to commit mass suicide? Why can’t we see beyond our petty interests? Is nature taking its revenge on us? All these and similar questions come to one’s mind when one considers the facts about climate change and, in Lenin’s words, “destruction without end” that capitalism has brought to this world…at least as far as environment is concerned.

The expectations with the Copenhagen summit have been gone in vain as the major stakeholders and polluters of this planet are not ready to take responsibility for what harm they have done, and they are not a bit interested to mend their ways. No one cares, especially those who are at the helm of affairs…

The mangrove wizard: Dr. Tahir QureshiThe mangrove wizard: Dr. Tahir Qureshi

Experts all across the globe foresee a terrible future. The present data is alarming, and the pace of environmental degradation suggests that climate change is imminent and not too far in the future. This means that if the people living on Earth, especially those in developed and industrialized countries, continue with their present lifestyle, it would be unthinkable to maintain sustainable development for this planet.

It is unimaginable to guess the massive threat of social conflicts around the world that will come out of the impact of climate change.

The Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) in Maplecroft’s new Climate Change Risk Report 2009/10 declares Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone the most vulnerable places to climate change. Norway, Finland, Japan, Canada and New Zealand were named the countries best placed to weather the effects of climate change, while Africa hosts 22 of 28 countries at extreme risk.

Maplecroft (the leading source of global risks intelligence) rated 166 countries on their capacity to mitigate risks to society and the business environment posed by the changing patterns in natural hazards such as droughts, flooding, storms and sea level rises and the resulting effects on ecosystems.

According to Professor Alyson Warhurst of Warwick Business School and founding director of Maplecroft, “The interrelated nature of global risks mean that ineffective adaptation to climate change will make the world more vulnerable to other risks such as energy, food and water security, infectious diseases like malaria, displacement, political instability and even conflict. In combination, these risks reinforce one another and threaten to undermine global development and economic growth. Governments and non-governmental organisations increasingly view business as a key player in preventing the impacts of climate change. Business needs to reduce the impacts of climate change throughout global value chains and by doing so make a positive contribute to the defining challenge of the 21st century.”

It is quite obvious that the most affected countries have almost negligible share in the massive pollution and environmental destruction perpetrated by the modern, civilized world.

Pakistan ranks 29th in the world and 6th in Asia among the countries at the highest risk of climate change. In Pakistan, the climate change has already started taking its toll. There have been hardly any rains this winter, which means that this year we are badly short of water for the Rabi season. We have 40 per cent less water for agriculture this year, which means 40 per cent less crops, says Dr Pervaiz Amir, a renowned environmental economist.

A World Bank report titled ‘Pakistan’s water economy running dry’ says that in recent years Pakistan has experienced periods of extreme drought (2001-2003) as well as periods of excessive water flow that lead to the extensive floods of 2006-2007. Falling groundwater levels coupled with pollution caused by industrial and public waste water has resulted in a scarcity of fresh water and has given rise to health problems and decreasing agricultural production.

The report strongly suggests that deteriorating environmental conditions and a scarcity of natural resources demand the adoption of sustainable approaches in order to ensure that Pakistan achieves its poverty alleviation goals.

Experts say that despite all the threats and risks, the government and concerned authorities in the country have not been able to come up with a viable a strategy to take mitigation and adaption measures in the wake of the climate change threat remains a far cry.

Tahir Qureshi, a senior official of IUCN who is working for the last 17 years to protect and grow mangroves in the coastal areas of the country, explains that the mangroves are a natural barrier against earthquakes, tsunamis and other similar disasters. Especially for Karachi, they are also the biggest source of environment purification. With the help of the sea breeze, the mangroves keep on processing and refining the air we breath in this city which is being continuously polluted by more than a million vehicles, the largest industrial zones of the country and the severals tonnes of solid waste that is burnt here every day.

However, he adds, the diminishing flows of river Indus downstream Kotri barrage have been badly affecting the mangroves plantation on the coast. The greed of those at the helm of affairs has also resulted in the vast destruction of mangroves due to the so-called ‘land reclamation’ activities over the years. In connivance with the local authorities, timber mafia is bent upon cutting the precious mangrove trees in various coastal areas of the city and it is feared that the if the destruction of mangroves goes unchecked any further our generations to come in this city will not be able to cope up with the disastrous effects of the global climate change.

Several articles, features and news have been published for the last many years on the numerous benefits the mangroves provide and the risks we could face with their destruction, however little has been done so far on a practical level by the government, social and corporate sectors to play their role for the purpose. Unlike sectors like education and health, where the social sector and corporate philanthropy have been playing a significant part to provide for the have-nots of the country, there has been negligible focus on environment and the number of companies allocating their CESR (Corporate Environment and Social Responsibility) budgets to fight climate change is quite low.

Karachi is the economic hub and industrial backbone of the country and a large number of businesses and industries in the city – both multinational and local – have significant budgets and many valuable projects in their CESR programmes, which they showcase in the media and their annual reports. The city has two major industrial zones, i.e, SITE and Korangi Industrial Area comprising several large and medium scale industries. There are oil refineries, pharmaceutical MNCs, automobile, food, chemical and fertilizer companies among the several corporate organizations that have their head offices or manufacturing plants situated along the city’s coastline — right from Keamari to Port Qasim. Pakistan Navy and large government organizations like Karachi Port Trust, National Logistics Cell (NLC), Fisheries Department, Steel Mills, Port Qasim Authority, DHA, Clifton Cantonment Board, etc, which earn billions of rupees from industrial and commercial activities linked with the sea, also seem least interested in protecting the coast, its marine life and mangroves forests that are fast depleting right under their nose. Perhaps — and there are reasons to believe it — with the connivance of their own officials.

An activist of a local NGO operating in Machhar Colony – Karachi’s largest unofficial shanty settlement along the city coastline – informed on the condition of anonymity that in connivance of the officials of KPT and the forest department, the timber mafia was cutting a large number of mangrove trees daily and tonnes of its precious wood was being smuggled from Machhar Colony to the city and other parts of the country.

A random survey by this scribe has revealed that the coastal environment and mangroves have hardly ever been a priority of the champions of corporate philanthropy in the country. Apart from some beach cleaning activities on World Environment Day, Karachi’s various administrations, NGOs, educational institutions, public and private organizations, etc, have done little to initiate tangible projects and spend time and money on a long term basis for this cause. Though, officials of a few organizations confided that they had communicated their intent to the forest department numerous times to plant mangroves as part of their CESR programme but there was no response at all.

Khurshid Ali, senior environmental journalist and editor of Wildlife & Environment, is of the view that the people of Karachi and the several industries and businesses that pollute the sea on a massive level every day and are directly responsible to a large extent of the threats faced by the mangroves and marine life on their coast should realize the problem seriously and contribute with their time, energy and money to protect the same. He also suggests that a minimum of US$100 environmental tax should be levied on every cargo ship or oil tanker coming to Keamari or Port Qasim and the amount collected should be spent on planting more and more mangrove trees.

Tahir Qureshi of IUCN, who has so far spent more than 17 years planting and caring for mangroves across the country’s coastal line, appreciates the suggestion adding that a bag of 600 mangrove seeds costs only Rs1100; if any individual or organization wants to contribute its share of mangroves plantation on the coast, IUCN could facilitate them to plant the saplings and protect them till an age when the trees could take care of themselves in the natural environment.

Naufil Shahrukh

Naufil Shahrukh Khan is a strategist and PR consultant. He is the Publishing Manager at MU    HealthComm. He can be reached at naufi.shahrukh@gmail.com.

Source : http://www.awamimarkaz.com/2010/01/saplings-of-hope/


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