Globally, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is recognized to have one of the largest mangrove forest covers in the world, protecting the lands from the viciousness of the open sea, and maintaining its productivity. In an agricultural based economy, a buffer against the sea is all the more important.
Given the last few decades, the country has witnessed a startling decrease in the mangrove cover. Due to the felling of trees for its usage for fuel and other such purposes, the costal areas are witnessing a direct attack on the one and only protection it has against salination. Even though the government and various other organizations have initiated programs and projects to counter this growing menace, it seems that unless a massive overhaul is not taken, unless a massive change in the perception of the people is not executed, then we may witness a slow yet torturous destruction of the costal areas.
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This report explores the phenomenal importance the mangrove forest holds to Pakistan, their spread, species and location, the reasons behind its depletion and projects done to counter the mangrove depletion. Only praying and hoping for a miracle is not enough. We must act; we must do our part to protect our costal areas. For this purpose we have done extensive research from secondary sources of data including environmental journals, articles by activists and environmental researchers.
Pakistan is a country rich in biodiversity. From rivers to the Arabian Sea, from the Indus Dolphin to the Himalayan Bear, we can see that ecology of Pakistan has given the right of life too many species. In the same way, where the land grows conifers and the like, the country was said to have one of the world’s largest mangrove forest. However, global warming, and with it climate change and human activities are adversely effecting the environment.
Pakistan’s coastline stretches from Sindh to Balouchistan and was known as one of the world’s largest mangrove cover. This gives way to a great variety of marine life and was a source of income to the settlers of the coastal communities. They are the home of great biodiversity; however their depletion is resulting in use losses for the ecosystem. Cutting of mangrove forests for fire wood and construction by locals, drying river beds, inflow of pollutant and salination are a few basic reasons for this problem.
The Pakistani population, be it elite or poor, all share a common perception, they will not act till the time complete and utter destruction is inevitable. Moreover, where there is a concern or an issue with regard to the environment, the masses display a completely lax attitude. The same is the case with mangrove forests. Now that we are nearly out of time, now that one of the world’s largest mangrove forests are diminishing day by day, the population has had a rude awakening. Pakistan’s sprawling fishery industry which many locals and businesses depend on may not be there in the next few decades. Let us explore as to the reasons behind this phenomena. Simply put, it is because we have exploited this resource to the extent that it is difficult to make up for what has been done to these forests by man himself. By intruding into the ecosystem through wrong practices they have disturbed the entire cycle of this part of the ecosystem.
However, all hope is not yet lost. There are projects being conducted by the WWF and IUCN in coastal areas to make the locals more aware on how to help protect their environment and also by planning more mangrove trees.
Being residents of a coastal city and seeing mangrove forests through out our lives, we hold more importance to his topic. Conservation and protection are keys to helping preserve this habitat.
Global Deforestation and Causes
It is not only Pakistan but globally that mangrove forests are facing a crisis. Some contributing factors are explained here. Population growth is considered as the biggest contributor world wide. Mangroves forests are being continuously reclaimed and converted in to Roads, ports, harbors, industries and urban setups etc. Also, the alternative use of mangrove forests as fish ponds generated high amounts of monetary gains in a very short time. Lack of government attention and overall lack of awareness in most countries has led to serious depletion. In addition, obscure regulations are either too complicated or inadequate to ensure the required conservation. The mangrove management agencies, mostly the local forestry departments, often do not have the adequate manpower and logistics required for the implementation of effective management.
Mangroves of Pakistan
Pakistan mostly has arid and semi-arid land with less than 250 mm of annual rainfall. The landscape is diverse consisting of high mountain systems, fragile watershed areas, alluvial plains, coastal mangroves, and dune deserts. Forests cover approximately 4.58 million ha (5.7 percent) in Pakistan. Of these, 0.132 million ha (less than 3 percent) are coastal mangrove forests. (Government of Pakistan, 1996)
Pakistan is divided into 18 habitat types. Mangrove forests which are classified as one of them occur mainly in the Indus Delta and in a few patches westward along the Balochistan Coast.
Mangroves cover approximately 129,000 ha in the Indus Delta and about 3,000 ha on the Balochistan Coast. The Indus Delta supports 97 percent of the total mangrove forest while the three pockets on the Balochistan Coast support the remaining 3 percent. . The Indus Delta is believed to have had as many as eight species, however most of which are now extinct in Pakistan.
The Indus Delta is a vast area covering approximately 600,000 ha with a coastline of 250 km, mainly bordering the city of Karachi in the northwest. The Delta is also quite diverse comprising of 17 major creeks, numerous minor creeks, mudflats, and 129,000 ha of mangrove forests. The Indus River that flows through this Delta is the source of fresh water. 95 percent of the mangroves located in the Indus Delta are of the species Avicennia marina. Very small patches of Ceriops roxburghiana (Rhizophora family) and Aegicerias corniculata (Myrinaceal family) are found near the mouth of the Indus at Keti Bunder
The 800-km long Balochistan coastline Mangroves occur in relatively protected lagoons and bays. The three pockets of mangroves occur at the following locations:
- Miani Hor: 95 km from Karachi, the lagoon covers an area of 7,471 ha
- Kalmat Khor: 315 km from Karachi, the lagoon covers an area of 10,216 ha
- Gawatar Bay: 515 km from Karachi, the bay covers an area of 26,316 ha
Miani Hor is a swampy lagoon on the coast in the Lasbela district where the climate is very arid, with less than 200 mm of rain a year. The sources of fresh water for Miani Hor are the seasonal run-off rivers of Porali and Windor. The nearest river to the other lagoon, Kalmat Khor, is the Basol River, which runs 15 km east of Khor. Gawatar, the third site, is an open bay with a mouth almost as wide as its length. Its freshwater source is the Dasht River, the largest seasonal river of Baluchistan.
Sonmiani Bay near Miani Hor houses three main villages -Sonmiani, Damb and Bhira – where a total of about 7,000 people live. Almost every family here depends on fishery activities. Sonmiani houses a considerable Hindu community, which lived here for centuries peacefully with the majority Muslims. The Hindu families are not involved in the fishing itself; many of the men, however, are fish traders.
Sonmiani originally meant ‘City of Gold’. Once, people in this region were so rich they paid their taxes in gold. The prosperity stemmed largely from the abundant fish catches. Also, small amounts of gold were found in the region. Fayyaz Rasool, the young and passionate conservation officer of the WWF mangrove conservation project.
The population of the Kalmat area is approximately 2,000. 95% of them are fishermen and belong to Kalmati and Sanghoor clan/tribes. The average monthly income of the majority of the household is about Rs. 3,000/month. Education in the area is very low and only about 5% of the population can read and write while almost all of the womenfolk are illiterate.
The human population in and around mangrove forests is about 1.2 million. Nearly 900,000 people reside in the Indus Delta and 300,000 on the Balochistan Coast. The number of households is estimated to be about 140,000 in the Indus Delta and 30,000 on the Balochistan Coast. Over 90 percent of the population is directly or indirectly engaged in fishing. High returns associated with fishing are causing rapid population growth. On average, the population in the coastal areas has been growing at a rate of 6 to 8 percent annually over the last ten years. Migrants from other areas of the country, Bangladesh, and Burma, who come mostly to the Indus Delta, have contributed to this growth.
Importance of Mangrove Forests
So why are mangrove forests so important to ecology? Well, Mangrove forests are not just a harvesting ground for mosquitoes but it is considered to be an important productive ecological system that serves both the marine life and human beings. Many diverse species of fish, crab, shrimps and mollusk inhabit mangrove forests. Also, coastal birds use the mangrove canopy for nesting, roosting and feeding that further ads up to the vast ecosystem of these forests. A team of researchers have noted that the woody coastline-dwelling plants provide more than 10 percent of essential dissolved organic carbon that is supplied to the global ocean from land (ScienceDaily (Feb. 27, 2006)).
Mangroves serve as nursing grounds for juvenile fish with refuge from large predators. The roots provide these fishes camouflage, as well as food till they do not become of a mature size.
Another function of this amazing species is that they are important in protecting the coastal areas from tsunamis. The dense root systems trap sediments coming from rivers creating a wall against high wave events. They even protect these sediments to reach other marine habitats such as coral reefs which need clear water to survive.
Mangrove wood is highly valuable as it is resistant to rot and insects. This creates a commercial use for these forests by indigenous coastal communities that rely on this wood to for construction as well as fuel. It also serves medicinal purposes and fodder for their livestock.
Mangrove forests, if given the importance, serve as great tourist attractions from its coral reefs and sandy beaches, but surprisingly only few countries have recognized the tourist potential of their mangrove forests. This is where the new awareness of ec-tourism can help.
Causes of Mangrove Depletion
So far we have discussed the importance of mangroves, the current situation in Pakistan and the importance of mangroves with respect to Pakistan. Now we focus on the causes of depletion of mangroves in Pakistan. One of the major causes of depletion of mangroves in Pakistan is the same as we have seen world wide, that is, the expansion of human civilization that leads to deforestation. We are progressing at a very high rate but that does not mean that we ignore the natural gifts that nature has provided us with. We must learn to live with nature in peace rather than destroying it, that to for our own good.
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Talking about Pakistan specifically, there is a clear case of mismanagement. This was highlighted in a workshop conducted in Islamabad (3rdJuly 2009) where this issue was raised with regard to the role of government, which was criticized for not protecting mangroves forests in the Sindh coastal area. It was discussed that there is a constant degradation in the mangroves of Sindh’s coastal area due to the government’s negligence and as no clear strategy was devised for their conservation. It was argued that apart from the lack of surveillance and expansion activities, the conflict of owner ship of such land is also a huge contributor to the present condition. There have been long pending cases of how and to whom to the areas belong, still there is no clear answer and the lands are left unattended. Changes in the expansion of sand dunes, non-flow of fresh water into the sea, and unchecked cutting and sale of mangroves have been contributing to the depletion of mangroves. When this cutting is done on a large scale it is usually for the purposes of reclaiming the area into land. Sadly, it is the authorities that are doing this for the government.
However it is still unclear whose jurisdiction this falls under, the Karachi Port Trust or some other, and therefore who will administer. The inflow of untreated sewage into the swamps is growing day by day as well and there is no main authority to gauge and administer this. Thus illegal work continues and there is no one to manage it due to lack of coordination amongst the departments.
Consequences of Deforestation
The mangroves plantations are the breeding grounds for thousands of species which thrive in a combination of saline and freshwater reservoirs. Due to illegal cutting and grazing the mangroves are rapidly vanishing, only four species have been spared out of the original eight.
However despite the local externalities, the reduced flow of freshwater is the major reason behind their destruction. The pace of devastation has dramatically increased over the time which is alarming. Obviously, their destruction is directly linked to the low catch of fish and shrimps. At least 10 MAF of freshwater downstream the Kotri barrage is needed to rehabilitate the region” if we desire to fish in the same manner.
At present, the greatest threat to mangroves worldwide is the farmed shrimp industry. Mangroves are natural nurseries for shrimp, and this industry destroys the mangroves by cutting them in wide swaths to make room for artificial ponds. These ponds are closed off to prevent the shrimp from swimming back to the sea. Without the natural cleansing of the tides, the ponds soon become polluted and laden with chemicals added by the farmers. Although not all farmed shrimp are raised in this environmentally destructive manner, in some countries this type of farming predominates.
If current trends persist then entire biodiversity of the area would be lost, also leading to serious social and economic repercussions. Over 90 per cent of the population of Keti Bunder is illiterate and lives well below the poverty line. If the mangrove forest is exhausted not only that area would be vulnerable to cyclones and tsunamis, but also innumerable fishermen would loose their livelihood and their way of life hence it’s vital for the eco-system without which this fragile habitat would fall victim to extinction.
“Every monsoon, fishermen suffer damages due to rising sea tides. However, there was no help ever from any official quarters. Most fishermen in the affected creek areas spent the night in boats as many houses were inundated in front of their eyes and their precious belongings were lost,” many have shifted to the inland area of Babu Dablu village near the Keti Bunder Town from Chaan and Hajamro creeks a few years ago.
Though the coastal area faces a number of problems, the foremost is the lack of drinking water supply. Keti Bunder has no direct line for drinking water while official work on the same continues at a snail’s pace. Water is brought in through tankers and is sold for Rs1000 to Rs2000 a trip. Landlords buy water; some store it in their tank, which is then supplied to inland and creek areas. Four to five gallons of water is sold at Rs25 to R30.
Middlemen, who give credit to fishermen on interest and then continue to exploit them for generations, are also supported by landlords.
Keti Bunder fisherman facing sea intrusion which has become faster in recent decades, has swallowed up 28 dehs (settlements) out of the 42 and the population has been displaced thrice. Abject poverty, disease and government apathy have left the people hopeless and almost the entire population has been hooked to gutka. Even women and children are not free of the addiction. Some non-government organizations are doing their bit, but that is too little to improve the lives of thousands of people.
“What is there to live for? Gutka is a big relief. It helps us to get rid of hunger, pain and the agony and weakness of illness,” said another fisherman. About the exploitative tactics of the middlemen, he said these people provided poor fishermen with loans for meeting travel expenses.
“Things were not that bad when I was young. We used to have a good catch and lived a healthier life. Now, it’s difficult even to feed children during off season,” said Mohammad Hasan, an old man with poor health and eyesight.
“My eye problem has spread to such an extent that I can’t even see now. I went to a doctor in Gharo, but I couldn’t continue the treatment since I didn’t have money. I spend my entire day sitting on the chair listening to surrounding voices and, at times, reminiscing bygone days.”
Reforestation of Mangroves
In Pakistan there are currently different organizations working towards reducing the negative impact caused by the people on the mangrove ecosystem. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) is a civil society organization that envisages “change”. To change the policies and practices of the state and its institutions in Pakistan, regarding the fisheries sector, would highlight sustainable fisheries policy that will empower the fishers’ and will ensure the preservation of natural resources which are depleting in abundant quantity. Organizations such as the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), WWF, the World Bank, the Forest Department budgets and the National Mangrove Committee of Pakistan are working for the reforestation of mangroves.
In addition to that studies on the mangroves are being encouraged. In 1980, the Commission of Ecology of the IUCN created a group to collate existing information on the status of mangroves globally for using it in the management, guidance and conservation of this natural resource. The focus of these programmes is to initiate a development strategy in order to save the mangroves from the hazards of human activities. There is also an emphasis on the availability of alternatives for the villagers who are dependent on these forests for fuel and fodder.
About the WWF intervention under the Indus for All Programme, a number of initiatives have been taken with community support. They included setting up of five wind turbines in coastal and inland areas, mangrove plantation, uniting villagers under community-based organizations and provision of boats with water tanks that feed four villages. Medical camps and workshops for awareness-raising had also been held.
In 1985, the government initiated a programme for replanting of mangroves. The IUCN- Pakistan, the UNDP/UNESCO, Regional mangrove project, and the Sindh Forest Department were involved in this project. More than 9,000 hectares were planted around the Indus Delta.
A survey that gauged the dependence of local people on these mangroves showed that about 100,000 people depended on them. They lacked many facilities and even did not have proper drinking water. In response to the survey the IUCN-Pakistan initiated a mass plantation in the coastal villages. The purpose of the programme was to establish wood lots and to create an alternative source of fuel and fodder for their animals and reduce their dependence on the inter-tidal mangrove. The villagers were given technical support to grow these plants in their own vicinity. The local villagers maintain these plantations at present.
It is disappointing to see Pakistan lose such a great gift of nature. However, there is still some time to cope with the damage that has been done. There are projects happening on a small scale but more has to be done, especially from the federal level. Mangrove cover is almost 132,000ha, and the coastal areas are still home to a great number of people, many of them indigenous. In a recent project by the WWF 541,176 mangrove saplings were planted by 300 local fisherman volunteers in one day, they broke the previous record of 447,874 tress planted by India(Posted:16 July 2009,WWF.org ) This was a great initiative taken up by the WWF and formed a healthy competition between the two countries. What was even more interesting about this project and should be followed is that it involved the local people into something that made them involved with their environment and for their benefit and that of the eco system.
However, unfortunately the government is still not trying to work on a system to generate the maximum, in a better, more environmentally friendly way. Even though, if this area is looked into and invested in, it could be an even greater industry, with a bigger contribution to the GDP, as well as help in the socio-economic development of the area. The main form of earning in these local indigenous areas is fishing. However, over the last few years this has diminished as the number of fish in the sea has been becoming lesser because of the causes stated above. This is disrupting the lives and livelihood of these people as many are planning to give up this occupation and migrate to the cities for a better livelihood, including the women.
It is our duty as contributors to this country’s environment to conserve these forests not just for our selves or our future generations, but also for the marine life that depends heavily on these plantations. Conservation of these mangroves is essential for the increasingly polluting environment of our society and it lies upon the shoulders of both the government and the locals to find ways to sustain this habitat in our country.
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