Garbage dumping for land reclamation puts environment, marine life at stake

Garbage dumping for land reclamation puts environment, marine life at stake

KARACHI: Instead of the scenic view of the beach with sea breeze from the Arabian Sea and its mangroves, there is heavy fog of smoke emitting from the enormous piles of garbage - the dumper trucks were unloading trash - increasing height of the already giant waste mountains.

At the site, everyone looked busy: trucks unloading the garbage, predatory birds, stray dogs and scavenger children exploring the food edibles from the garbage heaps, while a bulldozer leveling the garbage, towards seawater, producing fumes. Few small fishing boats were anchored besides the under construction jetty being filled with garbage piles.

This entire mega operation to create land through garbage, polluting the sea and endangering marine life was witnessed just outside the city's oldest fishermen settlement - Ibrahim Hyderi in Korangi Creek - one of the seventeen creeks of River Indus.

River water used to get mixed with seawater to give life to mangrove forests and keeping the water clean. But since the water in downstream was reduced, the timber mafia chopped down the mangroves and the government authorities started dumping garbage, the scenes have entirely changed.

Dumper trucks bring the garbage and bulldozers are seen spreading it into the sea to make it a piece of land, which according to the locals, will initially be made a fishing jetty and later converted into residential plots by an influential of the area. He is known to all, but no one takes his name.

Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan and the commercial hub of the country, has attracted millions of people from rural Sindh as well as the upcountry, in search of better livelihoods. The city has also witnessed an influx of different nationalities such as the Afghans, Burmese, Biharis and Bengalis in the last few decades.

Therefore, to accommodate such a large number of people, the city's land has literally become even more precious than gold. It is said that before the launch of the Karachi Operation, majority of the killings under the ambit of "target killings" were done by the opponents fighting to grab land. Such groups were infamously branded as the "Land Mafia".

These land grabbers had started grabbing amenity plots, parks, religious places, drainage beds as well as natural streams carrying rainwater to the sea. They haven't even spared the sea; through dumping of garbage, they are reclaiming the land to sell it to the poor coming to the city for a better future.

Using garbage to landfill sites is not new in Karachi, but using garbage to create land in sea is a new emerging trend, which has caused worst violence in past years.

Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA)'s official data reveals that Karachi produces around 12,000 metric tonnes of solid waste, every day and due to lack of any scientific landfill site, almost half of which, rather than getting collected - is burnt on the spot, while the rest is thrown into the sea, posing serious threats to marine life.

Though, officials claim to have official landfill sites, which actually are open spaces to dump the solid waste. These sites are in Jam Chakro (Surjani Town), Sector 6 of Mehran Town in Korangi Industrial Area, Gond Pass near Hub Chowki and Dhabeji near Railway Station, District Thatta. However, the biggest dumping site remains Ibrahim Hyderi.

"The KMC, in its Karachi Master Plan 2020, has declared Ibrahim Hyderi as a 'Garbage Transfer Station', which means they want to convert the city's oldest fishermen settlement having 0.5 million indigenous fishermen population into a garbage site," said Muhammad Ali Shah, chairman Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), which is struggling to save the city's natural resources. Shah said that it is not the government alone but a number of different mafias who are operating in the settlement. "The timber mafia has chopped down the mangrove forests, which are important for the coast protection and breeding of different fish species such as crabs and prawns," he added. "At first the government authorities began unloading the garbage on the beaches, and now, land mafia is doing so to reclaim the land. Our beaches are rapidly becoming no-fish zones."

He was of the opinion that influential sea lords were using garbage to dump into the sea; initially constructing the fishing jetty and then selling the land for residential and commercial purposes.

Tahira Ali, another activist of the PFF said throwing garbage near Ibrahim Hyderi was not only a loss for the indigenous fisher community, but was also damaging the marine life. "The massive cutting of mangrove forests have already posed serious threats to the marine life, and now, because of garbage, water species are on the verge of extinction," said Ali. "In such conditions, not the fishermen alone, but the entire ecology will suffer."

In addition to solid waste, around 330 million gallons (MGD) of industrial and domestic effluent is also discharged into the sea every day; approximately 70 percent of which reaches the marine environment, without any form of treatment, thus having profound effects on the marine environment.

The city's urban waste also affects the human settlements living along the coast. Most of the solid waste and trash, which is thrown on the beaches, comprises food waste (peels of fruits and vegetables, cooked food thrown by restaurants, marriage halls, rotten fruits, vegetables and other food items), plastic and polythene waste, paper and cardboard, bones and shell, leather and rubber, textile waste, wood waste (broken furniture, tree trimmings) and construction waste which includes bricks, debris of buildings, stones and other material. Dust and mud that is collected by the municipal staff during street sweeping, used electronic items, technically known as e-waste, and even the highly hazardous hospital waste is also mixed with domestic or municipal waste at Ibrahim Hyderi.

Experts say that in case the garbage is not removed from the site on the same day, which is not uncommon in Karachi, the decomposition and putrefaction promoted by the high temperature and humidity of Karachi and resultant emission of gases makes the life of the neighborhood miserable. The deposition of waste at the same spot for a long time makes it a breeding ground for mosquitoes, flies, rats and other rodents.

Poor garbage lifting in the city is not only giving Karachi a shabby look but is also resulting in increase of communicable diseases. The recent rise in dengue fever and Chikengunia cases is also closely related to worst sanitation conditions and a lack of proper waste disposal.

Zulekhan Ghulam Hussain, an indigenous fisherwoman, remembers her childhood when she and her friends used to visit the sea - it was so clean that one could even see a dropped coin in the seabed. "At that time we used to catch fish with the help of a cloth while walking on the seashore; but since mangrove forests have been chopped down coupled with dumping of trash in the sea, the fish has migrated into deepwater and fishermen now need powerful motorboats and a lot of fuel to go for fishing," she said. "While chasing fish catch, they often cross the sea limits and are arrested by the Indian navy. No one can realise the pain caused by polluted water, but the fisher community."

Nadeem Mirbahar of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), sees dumping of solid waste, industrial effluents and garbage into the sea as a serious threat to the marine life.

"The industrial waste comprising highly toxic chemicals from the tanneries, and the dumping of solid waste into the sea, poses serious threats to the flora and fauna of the sea," said Mirbahar.

Though there are several government departments and international organisations working for nature conservation including the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, WWF and UNDP in Pakistan, all of them seem to be in deep slumber on this issue.