The threat of global warming is becoming clearer with every passing season. The melting of glaciers in the Himalayas and the increasingly volatile climate of Pakistan over the last decade demonstrates that serious measures need to be taken if we are to slow down the effects of global warming. A preventive, holistic approach needs to be adopted under which no measure should be considered too small or insignificant.

This is where the preservation of the endangered mangrove forest of Pakistan comes in. What are mangroves, and how are they different from other trees? Also why is the forest useful for our environment? Mangrove forests provide multiple benefits. They are not only useful for our environment but also our local communities. In Sindh alone they provide livelihood for hundreds and thousands of people and help remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. They also act as a nursery for shrimp and fish and are an important part of the ecological food chain. Furthermore, Mangroves act as a natural barrier to storms and cyclones by absorbing the shock of the tides, reducing their intensity and also help to prevent erosion. They also provide shelter to migratory birds, including ducks, pelicans and flamingos. Mangrove forests are also particularly useful for local communities since they provide animal fodder and fuel for various locals.

The benefits that mangroves proffer are clearly immense, but what makes this discussion relevant is the danger posed to them. The threat to mangroves includes the release of heavy metal toxic substances and industrial waste. Water pollution caused by leakages and spills from ships are also harmful to these forests. Despite benefitting from these forests, local communities have harmed mangroves by using them to provide fodder for their animals, or fuel. The land and timber mafia is also responsible for the decrease in the number of trees in the Mangrove forests. Reportedly, wood that is worth between Rs. 200,000 to 400,000 is chopped on a daily basis. The relevant authorities and law enforcement agencies have been unable to prevent mafia from chopping these trees which cuts down mangroves, reclaims land and sells it off for commercial use.

Many plantation drives have been launched to promote the growth of Mangroves such as the recent drive by Pakistan Navy. However, there needs to be a shift towards establishing protection measures instead of focusing on restoration and dealing with the issue once the damage has already been done. A tree takes 10 to 12 years to mature so plantation drives will not have an immediate impact for the environment.

It has also been suggested that the mangrove forest be declared a national park. However, such a measure will most likely be met with resistance from local communities given their dependence on the forest. If the forest is given the status of a national park, the government would have to ensure that the needs of the local communities are met through other means.

Another measure that can be taken is the declaration of the entire mangrove forest as a ‘protected’ forest under the Pakistan Forest Act 1927. A huge area still remains under the authority of the Board of Revenue (BoR) and the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and has not been granted a ‘protected’ status under the Forest Act 1927. Conservation of this forest is possible if legal protection is provided to the whole of the Indus delta mangrove ecosystem. The management of this area should then be handed over to the Forest department since it would have the necessary expertise to conserve the forest. Furthermore, the government needs to ensure that the threats to the Mangrove forests, such as those from the land/timber mafia, disposal of untreated waste, oil spills from ships and the decrease of the flow of fresh water etc., are countered by necessary action by law enforcement agencies, as well as legislative and executive measures. Communities should also be engaged in the planting and conservation of mangrove ecosystems so that motivation to conserve these forests is generated. Local fishermen should also be mobilized and trained in mangrove plantation and nursery raising.

The conservation and protection of the endangered mangrove forest in Pakistan is crucial for our environment. If the government does not take necessary measures at this juncture the people of Karachi may have to pay the cost in the event of a tsunami or cyclone.