Eco Corridors – Syed Moazzam Hai

Karachi’s climate for the last many years has increasingly been stuck on the two-season idea – hot to very hot. So Karachi is getting hotter making us sizzle in envy for cooler places. But Karachi is not alone to have the hots for hotter days.

April 2014 was tied with 2010 for the highest global average temperature since 1880 as disclosed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a US agency on May 20, 2014. The planet that month was 0.770 celsius hotter than the 20th century average. As if we hadn’t had enough, the same agency informed us on July 21 this year that June 2014 was the hottest June since 1880. June has been warmer than the 20th century average for 38 years in a row as per NOAA. And on October 20 this year NOAA also found that this September was the hottest in 135 years of record-keeping while this year – 2014 – is on its way to becoming the hottest year on record.

On November 29, 2011 the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation revealed in its annual report on climate trends and extreme weather events that 13 of the last 15 years were the warmest on record since 1850, when accurate measurements began. “The world is warming and this warming is due to human activities”, said WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud. Human-caused climate change was found to have influenced some of the heat waves in 2013 by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society on September 29, 2014 in an annual report titled, ‘Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective’ compiled by 92 scientists from around the world.

The UK-based global risks advisory firm, Maplecroft, in a survey of 170 nations called ‘The Climate Change Vulnerability Index’ published in October 2010 warned that South Asia is the world’s most climate vulnerable region with five of sixteen countries listed as being at extreme risk from climate change over the next 30 years. Pakistan has of course made to the ominous list.

‘Cleaning Pakistan’s Air’, a World Bank report released in July 2014 informed that Pakistan’s urban air pollution is among the most severe in the world engendering significant damage to human health and the economy. The report also lamented the government’s lack of interest over the issue. How sincere our governments are about Pakistan’s environmental protection can be judged from former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s act of benevolence just a day before the end of his government’s tenure. According to news reports he allowed transportation of timber from the Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The removal of the ban on movement of timber, which was in place since the 1990s, resulted in deforestation by the timber mafia, endangering the environment and increasing risks of silting in the Tarbela Dam. In the March 15, 2013 notification the prime minister not only approved disposal of legally but illegally cut timber too from Diamer.

The World Bank report expressed concern over data that the harm caused by air pollution in Pakistan’s urban areas is the highest in the South Asian region and advocated measures like building mass transit systems in urban areas to reduce air pollution. In the plundered city of Karachi, however, the feudal democracy’s revenge instead of reviving Karachi Circular Railway inundated the orphan city with Qingqi rickshaws reported to be a good way to extract daily bhatta (extortion money).

A recent research study conducted by the PCSIR’s Centre for Environmental Studies disclosed in August 2014 that Karachi’s air is heavily polluted with lead, cadmium and carbon monoxide (CO) and poses a huge risk to public health.

Providing Pakistan with healthier lungs in the form of greater tree-covered areas is among the most important environmental protection measures. For that we could consider establishing’eco corridors’ in our polluted major urban centres. The idea is that the federal and provincial governments rent out or lease unutilised state land areas measuring from 1000 to 10,000 acres around major cities to national and international investors for converting them into eco corridors.

To make the project financially productive the investors should be allowed to use five percent of the allotted land for commercial purposes such as establishment of recreational farms, 20 percent for commercial agricultural purposes like growing fruit orchards or traditional crops like wheat, rice etc, 15 percent for drawing wood for commercial purposes while the remaining 60 percent should be used to grow forests consisting of native trees. The monthly rent could be based on the particular percentage of land usage. The federal, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab governments could implement and create eco corridors for the long-term protection of Pakistan’s ecology.