Friday, March 9, 2012

Mangrove Forests in Sindh

The Mangrove forests along Sindh's coastline are in acute condition. They are disappearing at a very fast pace, and intruding the agricultural land of Sindh. An inability to stop this intrusion might destroy the natural habitat of the area.

A view of Mangrove forest. (Source:  Cookies Pics)

1. The rate of erosion of mangrove forest found near Keti Bundar was about 1.5 feet per day,
2. 500,000 hectares of mangrove land has been devastated that can affect 400,000 families in Sindh.
3. From 1960s to 1980s, the mangrove cover area has reduced from 604,870 hectares to 104,000 hectares.
4. The mangrove devastation had costed Sindh's economy 15% of her GDP.
5. Over the last five years, the fishing industry is reduced to 25% of its original size.
6. There used to be 8 mangroves species which have reduced to 4.

The Mangrove ecosystem in Pakistan is one of the largest in the whole world. Mangroves are important in a number of ways (Note: all information is extracted from Prof. K. Kathiresan research paper):

1. Mangrove have high calorific value, hence more energy. 1 ton of mangrove firewood can provide energy equivalent to 5 ton of Indian charcoal.
2. The high amount of tannin in mangrove wood makes its timber more durable for furniture making.
3. The mangrove leaves are used in mats, baskets, and roof making.
4. Mangroves attract honey bees and help in apiculture activity.
5. Mangroves and especially Avicennia form cheap and nutritive feed forbuffaloes, sheep, goats and camels.
6. Mangrove extracts are used in indigenous medicine; for example, Bruguiera species (leaves) are used for reducing blood pressures and Excoecaria agallocha for the treatment of leprosy and epilepsy.
7. The Mangroves provide strong foundation for fishing industry. The forests are a breeding ground for fishes. One hectare of mangroves can yield 767 kg of wild fish and crustaceans, which is more than the yield in extensive system that can yield <500 kg ha‐1yr‐1. They serve as nursery, feeding and breeding grounds for many fishes and shell fishes.
8. Mangroves help in protecting the coast from solar UV‐B radiation, ‘green house’ effects, and fury of cyclones, floods, sea level rise, wave action and coastal erosion.
9. Mangrove swamps act as traps for the sediments, and sink for the nutrients. The root systems of the plants keep the substrate firm, and thus contribute to a lasting stability of the coast.
10. Mangroves help in reducing sea-waves, which in turn reduces devastation along the coastal region.
11. Mangrove systems offer protection to the coastline against the flood, which are often caused by tidal waves or due to heavy rainfall.
12. The mangrove systems minimise the action of waves and thus prevent the coast from erosion.
13. Mangrove ecosystems produce large amounts of litter in the form of falling leaves, branches and other debris. Decomposition of the litter contributes to the production of dissolved organic matter (DOM) and the recycling of nutrients. This helps in catalysing agricultural activity.
14. Reduces the amount of Salinity near the Indus Delta.

Mangroves are a blessing for Pakistan. It is unfortunate that no attention is being paid to natural resources which are a lifeline to Pakistan's economy. Pakistan being an agricultural economy cannot afford to lose the mangrove habitat. Immediate actions must be taken before it is to late.

A report by WWF (World Wide Fund) Pakistan summarizes the reasons for Mangrove devastation as follows:
1. Diversion of fresh water resources upstream only takes in the agricultural needs in account. This has reduced the amount of fresh water in the Indus Delta and hence affected the Mangrove ecosystem.
2. The untreated industrial and domestic waste water discharges from Karachi and its vicinity badly affects the mangroves.
3.  The government doesn't have resources to properly implement NEQs (National Environmental Quality Standards) as the environmental department is under-staffed.
4. Over-use of Mangrove food due to domestic usage. Families use mangrove as fire fuel in their daily lives.
5. Over harvesting of fish resources has also been an important factor for biodiversity loss in the mangrove
6. The Industrial policy is also a root cause in mangrove devastation. The report explains:
"Industrial policies favor centralized growth with implicit and explicit subsidies promoting inefficient production technologies and leading to increased marine pollution.  Trade policies, marked by tariff reductions and influenced by international prescriptions, emphasize export expansion to reduce trade deficits and revenue gaps. On the conservation side, over harvesting of fish resources in shallow waters indicate a complete disregard for the existing environmental protection laws.  Tax and water pricing policies have promoted inefficient water use.  Due to the lack of environmental assessment of these policies, biodiversity loss in the mangrove ecosystem has neither been understood nor given due attention."   

The government needs to take action:
1. Educate people about the importance of Mangroves. The government should include the importance of mangrove forests in national syllabus. Radio and television programs should be made on the importance of mangroves. Goverment should facilitate civil society to sponsor field trips and marathon races to the mangrove regions.
2. Strict laws pertaining to mangrove deforestation. The government must update laws regarding punishments in relationship to deforestation. The forestry staff should be facilitated in their work and no 'lateral input' should be accepted in implementing laws.
3. Effective Industrial policies which doesn't damage natural ecosystem. The WWF report writes: "In order to avoid conflict of interest and for strict compliance with the International Dredging Convention to which Pakistan is a signatory, dredging operations need to be monitored by agencies like EPAs instead of port authorities".
4. Welcome foreign investment in mangrove industry, which will greatly benefit the ecosystem and provide economic benefits to the economy.
5. A major scientific analysis should be conducted near the Indus Delta to re-evaluate the loss due to mangroves' devastation.
6. Freshwater divergence on the whim of the feudal lords must be prohibited and institutions should be developed which could punish the feudal authorities of the coastal region.

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