Ecologists urge for master plans to turn cities green
HYDERABAD: Alien trees standing along city roads, streets, public places and parks have created many environmental problems. It is the responsibility of all stakeholder departments of Sindh to encourage plantation of indigenous trees at public places and oppose alien plants to avoid effects of greenhouse gasses.
This was the core point of discussion during the celebration of World Environment Day 2017 under the theme of ‘Connecting People to Nature’ on Monday. Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) Hyderabad region with collaboration of Research and Development Foundation (RDF) organised the event, which attracted academia, community activists, media, and civil society representatives.
The speakers extended support to the idea to impose ban on plantation of alien tree species, including Conocarpus erectus, commonly called buttonwood and Eucalyptus at all levels to get rid of this danger.
“We have to see local solutions and encourage government, private sector and community people to plant local trees, which not only provide shade for the people to sit under, but also house birds, beehives, and other insects,” said Ashfaq Soomro, deputy director, RDF, who has been working on climate change effects and resilience strategies.
“We have to plant more indigenous trees for balancing the ecosystem in rural as well as urban centres. We have observed how the civic bodies have cut down trees, usually with a lame excuse, such as the trees were hindering utility services, damaging footpaths or being an obstacle for electricity wires and sewerage lines, or at times in the name of widening roads and constructing bridges,” he added.
Soomro said the imbalance in the ecosystem can be gauged through the increasing threats of heat waves in urban centres. He said presently Sindh has less than two percent forest cover, including mangroves. Riverine forests comprising 2.2 million acres have been depleted entirely and the land has been converted into agriculture land, displacing forest communities and wildlife species.
“Now is the time to motivate community people to launch ‘one tree one person’ campaign to maintain the ecosystem, he added. Ali Kumbhar, a development expert, working mainly in the desert and coastal areas of Sindh for water, green initiative, and livelihoods, said, “A collective approach is missing while we think at forums like today. Individual actions cannot resolve the issues.”
He pointed to the construction of high rise buildings without proper planning, and the resultant loss of trees and shrubs as a major problem. “They (builders) have backing of city planners and government authorities, which allows for this kind of environmental destruction,” Kumbhar added.
Dr Amanullah Maher of Environment Science Department of Sindh University Jamshoro said Hyderabad was known for its moderate weather, wind catchers and thick trees on roads and streets, which encouraged an active street like, but now the temperature touches 48-49 Celsius, forcing people to stay indoors.
“The once famous Thandi Sarak in Hyderabad with thick trees on both the sides of the road used to attract crowds who took shelter under the trees; now there are high rise buildings, and the trees are gone,” Dr Maher said.
He said after the 18th amendment, Sindh government has formulated laws and policies regarding the environment, but no action was taken to implement those laws, he added. He urged EPA to take lead as the technical agency to strengthen coordination within government departments and design a master plan to turn a city into a green city.
EPA deputy director Munir Abbasi realised that there was an anarchy-like situation and civic agencies were dumping entire urban and municipal waste into irrigation canals which provide drinking water to the tail end people.
He said the irrigation canals were supplying bacteria-laden water to the citizens. “We have passed on complaints to the relevant agencies, but there is no visible change,” he added. He said the government has designed a neem tree plantation project, which should be implemented by taking the public on board.
“It may contribute to having more indigenous trees and save common bird species, which are not visible in the environment anymore,” Abbasi said. Niaz Sial, agriculture engineering expert, associated with RDF shared his successful experiment to plant one million trees in shape of smaller groves, covering more than 100 acres in Jamshoro and Mirpurkhas districts.
“Local communities are cooperative but need support at government level. The forest department may play a role to provide tree saplings to them for homes, public places, and streets,” he added.