Tag Archives: mangroves

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.

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KETI BUNDER – TOWARDS EXTINCTION?


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.