Monday, July 07, 2008

Green cover study in Karachi

Mayor Mustafa Kamal has been plugging development in Karachi as if cement was going out of style. And indeed, if any of the hesitant investors from Washington to Korea gingerly took a tour of the city, they would see that Kamal has been to task with whatever resources he has. The result: bumpy flyovers and underpasses, whose sheer ugliness is forgivable if only for their traffic-jam reducing utility. The behemoth structures, despite being new, look as old as post-boom Detroit or pre-Capitalism Moscow. These roads in the sky appear seemingly out of nowhere and squat over housing colonies that miraculously manage to shrink and expand at the same time.

It will thus be surprising to most of Karachi’s harassed and confused residents that despite all this development, barely 35 percent of the city is covered in the grey stuff. The rest, a sprawling 2,300 acres, is either barren, or better, green. And Mayor Kamal knows it too.

By the end of August, Tahir Consultants will have completed its study of the city for a CDGK plan to transform all that barren land. The City District Government of Karachi will plant trees and landscape this area to not only balance out the concrete with nature but also combat pollution.

Such a project will require help from the Asian Development Bank but, as the Bank’s Karachi Mega City Sustainable Development Programme Coordinator Roshan Ali Sheikh told Daily Times, Karachi is perfect for such an undertaking. “Karachi is the 12th largest city in the world, with a population of 18 million and 4,115 people per square kilometer,” Sheikh explained.

The city is spread over 3,600 sq km, of which, 1,300 sq km (35 percent) is developed but 2,300 sq km (65 percent) is being used for urban agriculture.

The possibilities are easy to see with the satellite images the CDGK obtained of the areas that would be a part of the project. The total vegetation cover under the CDGK administration is a pitiful 5,327 acres but 41,438 acres are barren and therefore an open invitation. The largest swathe is found in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town that has 1,868 acres of vegetation. This town also has the most barren land (13,007 acres).

The project would extend tree cover, establish aesthetic plantations, apply modern landscaping techniques and encourage farm and social forestry practices. It will not only be limited to the inner city, however, but will encompass the Super, National, RCD highways, Northern Bypass, Super Highway-Kathore Road, Gadap Road, Gadap-Northern Bypass, Al-Asif Square-Northern Bypass, Malir-National Highway/Super Highway via Memon Goth and Darsano Channo, Memon Goth-National Highway-Super Highway link road via Damloti wells and Super Highway-Jinnah Avenue near Model Colony-Malir Cantonment. At the other end it will also extend to the coastal belt areas of Manora, Sandspit, Paradise Point, Hawkesbay Road, Keamari, Ibrahim Hyderi-Rehri Goth, Karachi Fish Harbour, Port Qasim and Bin Qasim industrial areas.

“The plantations would help improve the local climate, stabilize natural systems and maintain air, water, and soil quality,” explained the ADB’s Sheikh. The biochemical process will improve and underground and run-off water would be regulated. The plantations will reduce erosion, carbon sequestration and the greenhouse effect, while adding aesthetic value and mean more recreational spots.

There is one hitch, however, as with all such projects: it will need water and Karachi already has quite a shortage. The planners hope, however, to set up links and sub-links to use sewerage for irrigation. And Karachi has a lot of sewerage to spare.

The inner city will not be ignored. And the CDGK wants to also pay attention to green belts, parks, roundabouts, road lines and highways. “The project study will also identify areas that need forestation and landscaping,” said Sheikh. It will study soil quality, water availability and sustainability and recommend different landscaping techniques for the diversified areas.

The project will also focus on establishing mini-forests. According to Sheikh, the Lyari and Malir riverbanks and their adjoining arteries would be preferred and the coastal belt will also be given a share. If successful, this project could mean that Karachi could rival Islamabad, known for its lush greenery and prove that alongside development Kamal and his city government can cultivate more investors. No pun intended.



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