Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Chairman Muhammad Ali Shah dubbed the mafia as land grabbers. He said even many institutions were indulged in land grabbing in Karachi. He accused Defense Housing Authority and Port Qasim, Karachi Port Trust of being involved in that type of land grabbing. “These institutions are logging mangroves in the name of development and urbanization at the cost of marine life, environment and hundreds of thousands of fishermen, who are directly dependable on these forests for their livelihood and protection,” he added.
The Marina Club, Golf club and other housing schemes in DHA have been constructed by clearing mangroves, he claimed.
Apart from this, he said, there are many influential people with political connections, who are also involved in reclamation of mangrove lands. “These people, by cutting the mangroves in coastal areas of Karachi and Badin and Thatta, are selling the reclaimed land to make money,” he added.
He deplored that the authorities concerned have kept them aloof from the illegal activities of these mafias.
On the other hand, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Sindh Director Technical Waqar Palphoto said the agency was actively working to preserve and protect the forests in coordination with other stakeholders and agencies. However, he said plantation of mangroves was not the job of EPA.
The mangrove forests are natural shields of coastal areas against storms, tsunami, cyclones and floods. Experts say these forests are so strong that when tsunami strikes, they lessen its intensity by up to 30 percent, decreasing possible destruction. They said the merciless chopping of the forests along Karachi coast has exposed the city to storms and tsunami threats.
Tahir Qureshi said the mangrove forests protect coastal areas from the effects of cyclones, tsunamis and storms. “These are natural barriers to shoreline erosion as they stabilise fine sediments, and, to some extent, ward off effects of storms, hurricanes and tsunamis,” he added.
Bona Fide Fishermen and Boat Owners Welfare Association President Asif Bhatti said fishing communities of the coastal villages of Karachi were worried over the uncontrolled denuding of mangroves in coastal areas of Sindh.
The fishermen of Keamari and others areas of the city have repeatedly urged the authorities concerned to take action against the people involved in the illegal practice, but did not receive any positive response.
"We have requested the authorities to protect the mangrove forest near our islands from illegal cutting, but there is no response," Bhatti added.
He said the fishermen were well aware of the importance of mangroves as they depend on them for livelihood and protection of their costal habitats. The fast logging of mangroves, he said, has created marine environment problems, as the forests were natural hatcheries of shrimps and mud crabs.
He said the fishermen would face a big setback because of the migration or killing of marine animals, which they depended on for livelihood.
PFF Chairperson Muhammad Ali stated that hundreds of thousands of people directly or indirectly depended on the mangrove ecosystem for living, and for centuries communities used mangroves as fuel wood and fodder for their animals. Over the last five decades, mangrove forests had been subjected to over exploitation, he added.
Shah said in 1986, the dense, normal and sparse vegetation were spread over 2,83,000 hectares, which has now been reduced to mere 70 thousands hectares. This speaks for the merciless chopping of the mangroves, he added.
Both Muhammad Ali Shah and Asif Bhatti flayed the government for its inaction over such an important issue, saying despite consistent demands for action, the government functionaries are unmoved.
Regarding the challenges hampering conservation efforts, PFF Chairman said in Karachi, multiple agencies had control of mangrove forests including Port Qasim Authority, Karachi Port Trust, Defence Housing Authority and Sindh Forest Department. “Though all these agencies claim ownership of forest falling in their respective jurisdiction, when it comes to safeguarding these, they all put responsibility on others,” he added.
Shah demanded of the government to take immediate steps for protection and conservation of the precious forests, besides making efforts to increase the dwindling mangroves cover in Sindh.