Category Archives: Environment

The Olympic Marathon 2012

The Marathon owes its name to a city in Greece. It is from here according to Plutarch’s accounts that a messenger from the Battle of Marathon, Pheidippides ran all the way till Athens to announce victory over the Persians and then dramatically die on the spot. Interestingly, the same route was revived during the 2004 Athens Olympics. Though the historical accuracy is debatable, the legend was immortalized as a poem by Robert Browning in 1876.


The Marathon was initiated as a crowd puller for the first Olympics in Athens in 1896. It started off as a male only race with females being introduced in the women’s marathon in Los Angeles in 1984. Since its inception it is traditional for the men’s marathon to be the last event of the athletic’s calendar.


There was no standard distance for the first 7 Olympic Marathons but eventually the distance was fixed at 42.195 km or 26 miles and 385 yards. With the London Olympics 2012, just round the corner, it should be of interest to note that it was the 1908 London Olympics that brought about this fixture as a result of a deviation from the approximate 40 km distance following the original from Marathon to Athens. This deviation was the result of a wish by the then Princess of Wales who wanted her children to see the start. The race was thus moved to the East lawn of Windsor castle adding 2 kms to the planned 40 kms. Moreover, 385 yards were added to the finish line in accordance with Queen Alexandra’s wishes to have the best view, thus making the atheles run on a cinder track right up to and below the Royal Box. Here’s looking at you will get a new twist this time it seems as the route has been chalked out for the atheletes and viewers to get the maximum benefit – passing through all the major London landmarks on the way.  


While the Marathon is an event of great significance in the Olympics, recreational runners may also take part in other marathons being held around the globe on an average of 800 marathons per year. The goal then becomes to break one’s previous time barriers or simply to finish under the average time of 4 hours or 3 hours if one is more competitive. Ethical considerations are followed with recreational runners keeping to the side to allow faster runners to pass through the centre.


Preparations for the Olympic Marathon are on in London. While the  last Beijing Olympics had Tiananmen Square as the starting point, the London Olympics can wager a promising start at the Mall within sight of Buckingham palace. With the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations still in the air, this addition would undoubtedly come as yet another jewel in the Crown. Past races have been run over both high and low terrain with perhaps China being one of the few countries to boast of diversity and variety in the race. China’s past ventures show both interest and creativity as far as the marathon is concerned. The famed race has been run as ‘The Great Wall of China Marathon” over the Wall itself and through the Tibetan plateau region as “The Great Tibetan Marathon”.


During the last Olympics, the enthusiasm for the games was slightly marred by the environmental concerns, especially the pollution levels and unprecedented smog in Beijing. Haile Gebrselassie from Ethiopia, the men’s marathon world record holder clocking 2 hours 4 minutes and 26 seconds in 2007 backed out then, amidst fears for escalation of his asthma. Similar fears were voiced by other asthmatics including Paula Radcliffe, Britain’s world record holding marathon runner about the pollution, the heat and the humidity.  The media’s role had too been paramount in spreading rumours and increasing the hype by publishing news stories and photographs showing the Beijing National Stadium – ‘the Bird’s Nest’, engulfed by smog early in the morning.

This time round, the reports are coming through yet they are staggered at best, while the conditions appear to be no different. London reportedly has been warned by EU for its poor air quality, having the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in the EU as well as dust particles. So far scientists and research students seem to be the strongest voices regarding this aspect of the marathon. It would be interesting to hear from Paula Radcliffe this time round, on her home advantage or disadvantage as the case may be. While Beijing in 2008 shut down the major industries and banned half the city’s transport contributing to the smog, Britain has yet to come up with a similar plan. With health concerns for the atheletes and their optimum performance slowly rising, the British public and the rest of the world wait with bated breath to see what the Marathon brings us all. More controversy or an entertaining finish till Tower Hill.

Map courtesy: 

Dolphins of the Indus – Is it that time of year again?

Think of a doll with a fin – doesn’t sound quite right, does it? Rather mermaid – like. Still, thats the first thing that came to my mind when I first mouthed the word. It was much later that I would glimpse just a flapper through the murky waters and forever be drawn to the playful enigma that is the ‘dolphin’.

Dolphins, often depicted as intelligent, playful creatures in films are found in both oceans and rivers. Due to the murky environment in which the freshwater dolphins live, their ability to see has been impaired to the extent that they are only able to distinguish between light and dark and the direction from where the light is coming, earning them the title of ‘blind’. In its place they have developed a sophisticated echolocation system which helps them navigate and alerts them to the possibility of food.

Pakistan is host to the grey – brown blind Indus river dolphin or Platanista Minor named Bhulhan by the Sindhi people meaning a tall, voluptuous woman. This species is unique to Pakistan while its close relative is the Platanista Gangetica or Susu of the Meghna, Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers in Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

Another cousin, the Boto, resides in the Amazon and Orinoco rivers in South America. According to the International Union for the Consevation of nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red Data list, the Bhulhan is second on the list of endangered species after the Baiji of the Yagtze river in China, for which the last verified blind dolphin sighting was way back in September 2004.

Originally said to be a shy dweller of the ancient Tethys sea about 50 million years ago, the Indus river dolphin was forced to migrate when the sea began to dry up. The Indus river dolphin enjoyed a peaceful existence until the 1930s when the construction of barrages and dams impeded its migration, split it into small groups and degraded its habitat. Since then, the dolphins have been forced to remain confined to certain areas – definitely not a natural occurence.

The majority of the dwindling population of about 600 dolphins currently resides in the shadowlands – the waters between the Sukkur and Guddu barrages; an area declared as the Indus river dolphin reserve since 1974.

While different agencies such as the WWF – Pakistan in its  Indus River Dolphin Conservation project. Man made perils still await the dolphins of the Indus in the form of industrial waste spewing into rivers, water scarcity in the Indus, construction of dams and barrages, fishing nets and hunting by the locals for its meat, oil and fins.

It seemx Pakistan has been a far from friendly environment for the dolphin. While 2012 remains free of any reports of dead dolphins so far, it was around this time last year in 2011 that reports were received of nearly 6 dolphins, lost forever to the chemical filled waters between Guddu and Sukkur. One can only imagine what this 200 metre expanse of water may have done to the area and later to those eating the fish in these waters. Ironically, the impatience of fisherfolk may shoulder much of this blame. Dumping in chemicals for quick results may prove more addictive than not.

One can only hope that the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum in sync with the environmental agencies operating in the area sustain and balance sanity, patience and livelihoods.

Should Karachi Zoo be shut down?

To cage or not to cage?

Browsing through an array of notifications that hits my screen every few minutes or so, I was recently stirred by an ongoing debate on one forum. The topic in question was about the efficacy of the Karachi zoo and whether it should even exist or not. Keeping for and against points towards one side, quite a case can be made for both aspects.

Perhaps one of the things that struck me the most was how many people there were right! If I existed in my bubble I would undoubtedly say that having a zoo in Karachi is a useless venture and be done with it. Yet, my bubble was broken long ago. Agreed, that in the case of the zoo it is quite painful to see the animals slumbering in smelly cages, especially the ever sleeping lion, yet it could be taken as a personal opinion. I am completely against the concept of keeping any wild or pet creature in a cage. It is against nature, demeans God’s creations and is tantamount to cruelty which no religion or civil society teaches. Reminds me of St Mary’s asylum in Bethlehem and the commotion it caused in history because there humans were being treated in the same way as animals. Think for a minute of our own selves in those cages and it is enough to make one shudder.

At the same time, I’ve come to realize that change cannot be pushed forward impulsively. One needs to remove a brick and place another in its place so the infrastructure doesn’t collapse. The zoo wasn’t made in a day and the jobs even though being understaffed are provided for and cater to several families. At the same time, there is a case for using the zoo as a ready made lab for the creation of a healthy genetic pool for endangered species.

On the other hand, conservationists feel that the main reason the zoo has survived so far as an open place in the heart of the city is because we have a valid excuse ‘there are animals in it and it’s a recreational space’. Without that excuse there is little between a bullet and a bullet to stop land grabbers. And we do need that open space as a breathing space in the middle of the city. Further while we of the car and facebook world bubble have our dens and haunts, many women living in the locality look forward to the day when it’s a ladies only day and they can easily spend their time there. On special occasions, ladies are not allowed inside and yes, there may be several pickpockets. I was once told that on such days men rule the place and sadly consider it great fun to poke animals to make them react. Brutal and callous yes, but the more we shut down and avoid such instances instead of re-educating, we are not giving anything to society. The concepts will not change.

The need of the day is to plan carefully and listen to different views as well along the way. There may be more than just animals at stake here. Food for thought… There should be adequate provision of open places for entertainment for masses rather than the elitist population only.

One of my earliest memories is of seeing finally all those wonderful animals that I had before then seen only in books as a five year old child. The wonderment and pleasure at the size and beauty of it all in that bright afternoon is a happy memory. So it is with others, photographers and nature lovers alike who go and spend time at the zoo on cloudy days and enjoy the open space. On good days it is still a great place to be. Long winding walks, greenery and the vast expanse of land make it an ideal picnic spot as well, especially for those who do not have the means to bear with the expense of carting their offspring to the beach and buying goodies for them there from the shops dotting the area. The convenience of the location as well as the economy of biying sweets and affordable snacks from vendors near the zoo cannot be undermined.

One suggestion of dealing with the knotty issue at hand is of converting the current facility into a focus on a petting zoo with pet animals in open spaces and trained staff to guide children how to handle such animals. Baby animals and pets may be better able to elicit responses of warmth than of poking and ridicule and change the concept of the zoo as many have it at present.

The problem with most petitions is that they communicate aggressive action and impulsivity – they denounce something and do not provide suitable alternatives. As a result many noteworthy causes fall flat as those in the Government feel they will face additional protests from a variety of people especially the employees if they listen to the voices of concern from civilian bodies. A shelter or petting zoo is a good alternative that would keep the space and the jobs intact, while getting rid of the abhorrent and expensive to maintain wildlife in cages concept with an always sleeping lion to go with it. He definitely needs to be out in the jungle where he belongs.

As for shutting down the zoo? Definitely NOT an option.

For a view of the improvements made in the zoo since its inception and to know more about the history, I recommend reading:

 Photos courtesy: , ,

Rais Mureed in Danger!

Saying that forests are important and then writing about that is as cliche’d as it can get. However the forest in question, ‘Rais Mureed’ has been a sorry bone of contention since many years. I last covered the issue of Rais Mureed in 2007 and little has improved since then.

While the Pakistani Government loudly proclaimed the year 2007 as its ‘green Pakistan’ year and prominently showed leaders on television planting, saplings, the mutilation of full grown trees continued unpunished and unabated from the timber mafia in the North to the mangrove destruction in the estuary region in the South. IUCN data records show that replantation of mangroves is not even half as fast as their destruction. the local fishermen community needs its driftwood for firewood, but more damage has been done in the name ofland reclamation and security concerns. Land mafia here is the biggest stake holder and it seems people will go to any lengths where land is involved.

land reclamation in the estuary regions

Rais Mureed is a typical belo forest located in the Matiari district of Sindh. This is the only notable vegetation in the region as the area is generally barren with sparse patches of thorny keekarr dotting the landscape. The bela region is located generally inarrow belts along the Indus flood plains. Their main varieties include Babul (acacia arabica) which is used for tanning and fuel and Shisham (dalbergia sissoo) which is an important source of timber and used in making furniture.

pastoral scenes - Matiari district

The damage to Rais Mureed and its adjoining Khebrani forests has been extensive. The local Bhucha and Khebar communities are poor farmers and use the forest land for grazing purposes. As yet, they are reportedly the only obstacle to the influential persons of Sammon who want the land razed to ground level for agriculture. Recently a woman of the Bhucha community was killed during a police operation in the area and village persons have demanded suo motu notice.

The Rais Mureed forest was earlier spread over 12,000 acres and figures taken till 2008, show that the area had dwindled to just over 2,000 acres. the forest has thus been deprived of nearly 80 million trees spread over 10,000 acres of land!

cultivation - Matiari district

It is sad to see farmers looking at short term benefits rather than long term plans. Perhaps lack of education and specifically, geographical and agricultural knowledge of modern science can be related to this as erosion is imminent if the situation does not improve. The adjoining areas have sandy soil and the forest is the sole protector of the neighbouring crops of wheat, maize and sugar cane. If the forest is destroyed, the sandy soil will not be able to stop the inflow of water during floods and could lead to not only extensive crop damage but also waterlogging in the long run.

The Belo Bachayo committee was initially the lone voice against the tree-slaughter as the local Bhucha community was one of the main affectees. However, now Khebar, Khoso, Rind, Chohan, Sehto and other communities have also joined hands with the Indus Development Organization IDO to urge for an increase in aerial seeding, GIS mapping of the forest region and a reduction in leasing of forest land. In a recent press conference on 18th April 2011, they also urged for the Provincial Government to abide by the orders of the Sindh High court.

It is only to be hoped that environmental agencies and more importantly, the Government looks into this matter seriously before we face another bout of floods during the monsoon season.

One way ticket to the moon?

With stress in the Karachi increasing day by day, and noise pollution being a significant contributor of the same, I for one, wouldn’t be sorry to finally bid adieu to the multicoloured little devils roaming the streets – the rickshaws! The unsilenced silencer and the smoke liberally spewing out of it, straight into one’s already twitching nose is enough to drive one literally speaking – into a pothole. However, economic conditions taken into account, rickshaws are definitely cost

We now have an alternative in the form of the CNG rickshaw or the ‘green’ rickshaw, which is much kinder on the eardrums with a mere 5% of the sound produced by its predecessor, friendlier for the environment and a boon for commuters. Major city district governments of the country had plans to impose a ban on two stroke rickshaws till the end of December 2007 but these little devils can still be seen around the city at various points.

The Qing Qi is the expanded version of the rickshaw, can always be used to squeeze in more passengers and is quite economical. Till recently, it was more often seen in smaller localities but now it can be seen on main roads in Karachi as well.

One way ticket to the moon? - The Qing Qi or locally termed Chaand Gari (Moon Car)

A word of caution however for the more adventurous, never squeeze in more people than you can fit in normally or you may be in for a very nasty shock. Even more important: NEVER let the driver of the motorcycle that is attached to the seats, get off if the Qing Qi is overloaded.

I and my friends currently hold a personal level record for stuffing nearly 10 people in a single Qing Qi in Lahore beating our earlier one of 5 people in a little yellow rickshaw in Karachi. While the rickshaw suffered no damage apart from several finger pointing instances that did wonders for our combined egos, we barely escaped from the Qing Qi in one piece. Unfortunately for us, the driver of the Qing Qi decided to refill his motorcycle tank with gasoline. He got off, an adventurous friend decided to hang around on the back seat and the next thing we knew, we and the Qing Qi were slowly tilting back towards what could have been a very nasty tumble. We all barely got off in time.

Coming back to the green rickshaws and their efficiency not to mention sturdiness – it will not tilt backwards), currently there are five companies manufacturing these rickshaws in Pakistan under various schemes. Each company manages to manufacture 10 – 15 rickshaws per day. Three companies
manufacture 150 CC rickshaws while the other two manufacture 175 CC and 200 CC rickshaws respectively.

Inside an Indian rickshaw in Delhi

Many rickshaw owners seem to prefer the 200 CC rickshaws to the rest as it has more features. It has 5 foot controlled gears instead of 4 gears and a water cooled body with a radiator which gives it more mileage as it prevents the engine from excess heat. It can be started in a number of ways by either self start or kick start.
This CNG rickshaw is available in the market for approximately Rs. 180,000
while its competitors are cheaper. This includes the amount for the equipment
to run it on diesel for the first 1000 miles.

Various schemes have emerged with the advent of the CNG rickshaws. The President’s Rozgar scheme involves Chinese rickshaws which many do not find capable enough, especially when there is more than one passenger and an upward incline. Similarly, voices have also been raised against exploitation under the Green Fund scheme which allows government officials to buy rickshaws. The Green Punjab Fund provides rickshaws under soft terms and interest free banking scheme.

On 1st August 2007, the President of All Karachi Taxi & Motor Rickshaw Owners`
Association (KTMRA) unveiled a rickshaw converted from two stroke to four
stroke (CNG) using an old Indian Bajjaj’s four stroke 175 CC engine fixed on
the old Italian rickshaw chassis. This has been termed far more durable. Good for the Indians who have been using the greener versions for a long time now. It is to be hoped that the smoke spewing devils become obsolete soon enough and we move towards a healthier environment for all.


Some information on technical points provided by Mehboob Ilahi, CNG rickshaw owner in Karachi.

Qing Qi photo courtesy:

Growing together…

I still remember the first time I saw a pea sprout. Out came the root just as the teacher had predicted and the cotton wad on which it had been placed was handed around gingerly to all one by one to see and marvel at. Much of that innocent wonder has been lost to most of us today. A garden is pretty and the flowers … yes, prettier. And that is it.

As life rushes by, daily we race with the clock, never pausing for an instant to look around us. Sadly enough most of what we Pakistani city dwellers do see around is not calming in itself. The eyes see rows after rows of residential areas or shops. Green strips are rare and for the apartment dwellers, the odd plant or two in the balcony is considered ornamental enough. Still rarer is the concept of
working in ones own garden and thus we see maalis bearing the brunt of the equation. Additional work, you think? Maybe yes. But then again, it may be just what the doctor ordered…

The benefits of gardening are so diverse that in several parts of the world, horticulture therapy has been inculcated into clinical practice where it provides relief and hope to patients with all kinds of problems ranging from low mood to the omniscient stress and worry that punctuates most modern lifestyles. More than anything, gardening is what you make it.

Researchers agree that physically the effects of gardening are quite obvious. Forget about paying extra for the gym, as gardening provides one of the best aerobic exercises that give strength and flexibility to the bones and the muscles alike as well as the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. However, care should be taken with regard to posture while lifting heavy objects.

Psychologically speaking, the effects are slower, yet they run deep. In the long run, sleep and appetite can be regulated pretty well by a regular dose of gardening. A routine can be structured around the watering and weeding process that can stimulate the appetite as desired depending on the amount of work done and gift ease in sleeping to the sleepless. The natural rhythm is in more than one way, fine tuned.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever wrote Keats and these oft quoted lines bring every planted bulb to life. Whether it is a lonely heart, a sad one or a merely pensive one, the sight of flora and fauna is soothing to the senses. Poetic sentiment isn’t the only plus point here. The physical work associated with caring for an entire garden is said to release endorphins that in turn alleviate stress. Apart from working in a garden, simply being in one also works wonders for the mood and  stress levels. This effect can be heightened through a water garden that ideally has gently flowing water or at least includes some source of water whether a basin or a pond. The sound of water such as that in water features like fountains and imitation waterfalls stimulates the mental capacities and reduces tension inside a person. Visually too, the same effects are felt but over a longer time duration.

The process can be meditative as well. The sense of here and now it exudes, quietens the ever critical conscious mind as the individual can finally allow himself to simply… be. The innocent wonder comes surging back at the tiniest instances: a new shoot, the sight of bees around the first flower of the season, or even butterflies twirling merrily round the flowerbeds.

Exotic garden in Karachi

Creative potential can be explored too as a constructive outlook can allow the
individual to experiment with various landscapes, lighting conditions and
embellishments. The sense of achievement this brings also builds confidence and
provides on the whole a very healthy outlet for pent up emotions.

Still, a garden or even nature is far from being picture perfect all the time. Buds wilt, plants die, and entire gardens are destroyed by pests, stray animals, heavy
rain or the burning sun. The farsighted gardener often recycles dead leaves and
plants as compost in the gardening sphere and life goes on. Gardening then, for
the regulars acts as a microcosmic world, analogous to the one outside but far
safer. The temperament of a gardener in the long run becomes peaceful and
positive – from one season to the next, as the mind tends to dwell more on what
will grow, while enjoying the present and respecting the past.

Horticulture therapy has been in practice for quite a few decades now but its beginnings can be traced back to the time of the ancient Greek physician Asclepius who prescribed rest near streams and shady woods as treatment for most illnesses. Dr Benjamin Rush, the Father of American Psychiatry, in the 19th century called gardens curative for people who were emotionally disturbed. Yet, it was the rehabilitation centres emerging in the 1950s that made horticulture therapy popular. In Pakistan, its practice is not yet structured, nor indeed is it known by this name, but individuals have made efforts on their own to involve the elderly, the emotionally disturbed and the mentally challenged in ‘activities’ involving gardening. In its essence, horticulture therapy involves guiding individuals with various emotional issues in their lives towards a better future by empowering them in all phases of the horticulture process from propagation to selling products as a form of satisfaction. This may be internal, allowing for enjoyment of the produce by the person and his family or external through monetary benefits.

Different emotional states require different kinds of stimulation and at different
levels. For those feeling low, sitting in a garden without flowers may be
beneficial to some extent, but not as beneficial as sitting in one with flowers. For the mentally challenged or for those with sensory disabilities, especially children who are intended to work with plants, it is essential that plants are planted for their variations of texture or colour or fragrance rather than the price tag that comes with them. Variations provide a richness of experience unparalleled by mere human toys. Using the bare hands to plant, weed or dig in, provides a sense of purpose and fulfilment when small goals are met and merge into larger ones.

For those with motor disabilities gardening can be made easier by raising the beds at least two feet from the ground and making paths between them broader so that manoeuvring becomes easier.

On an individual level, each of us is as responsible for our own emotional health as for that of our families. Living in and loving a garden, whether it is spread over acres or is restricted to a balcony, has its rewards that can not be judged lightly. With the alarming rate of emotional disturbance amongst many issues that is spreading rapidly in our country, a healthy, constructive activity acts as a
panacea and in the long run, helps us grow… together.


Keti Bunder is a small port town and fishing harbour situated 90 km (55 miles) east of Karachi. It lies at the confluence of the Hajamro and Tursian creeks at a distance of 7  km (4 miles) from the Arabian sea.

The estuary region mangrove skyline

Its significance lies chiefly in its geographical bearings which place it in a position suitable for use as an important port for Pakistan if properly developed.

In 1864 A.D., Keti Bunder was closed due to the closure of the branch of Indus on which it was located. History threatens repetition and Keti Bunder may soon become a name of  the past – its Fate being similar to Lari Bunder close to Thatta and Kharakbandar on the confluence of the Habb river and Arabian Sea, both of which were choked with silt during the early 18th century. Navigation may soon become difficult if not downright impossible, endangering the livelihood of the fishermen, who have already been forced to move thrice as the Arabian sea encroaches and the Indus River slowly and surely changes course.

Ecologically, the site holds its own. The wetlands of Keti Bunder North and Keti Bunder South with areas of 8948 ha and 23046 ha respectively, rank amongst important  protected areas according to the Sindh Wildlife Department.

However, to date, the area has mostly met with neglect by both internal and external  sources:

  • The Keti Bunder Project agreement between a Hong Kong based company and the  government was scrapped on June 24, 1997, just 2 years after its initiation, after a cost-benefit analysis by Pakistani officials and lack of physical development by the foreigners. If completed as planned, in 2001, the project would have included a 5280 MW electric plant, a port complex, an industrial zone between Thatta and Jamshoro and jobs for an estimated 7000 people.
  • The locals of Keti Bunder suffer in silence while ecological destruction continues  and natural disasters such as droughts and more recently, floods. In November  1993, a cyclone hitting the coast, created havoc in the area due to the absence of mangroves, while nearby Shah Bunder was saved by its mangrove forest.
  • Public services are scarce. The Rural Health Centre lies in a state of half hearted  maintenance having no doctors or lady health visitors.
  • Literacy figures are low – only 21% males and 3% females are literate.

NGOs and public welfare organizations provide some hope:

  •  The World Bank IDA funded Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) with Aga Khan Planning and Building Services is working to provide access to clean drinking water by water filtration, is installing household latrines and thanks to its  services, many village roads are now paved.
  • WWF Pakistan’s coastal project aims to achieve sustainable use of the ecosystem on which the livelihood of the people depends.

Much more needs to be done for the area and the people, especially from an environmental point of view to keep it inhabitable. Mangroves have almost disappeared and the once lush rice fields are legends already. If the ecosystem is improperly cared for,  it will mutilate this limb of the Indus and have widespread repercussions on the surrounding area in years to come.