By Hasan Mansoor
As the provincial government`s plan to plant three million trees in the province is yet to materialise, the existing trees in the city are being felled for reasons ranging from bad planning on the part of the authorities concerned to what is being described as `security hazards`.
`When it comes to strengthen security in our country, trees are the first victims to be targeted,` said Dr Noman Ahmed of the department of architecture and planning of the NED University while speaking.
A large number of trees, which included century-old Banyan to Neem trees and newly introduced Conocarpus, have been chopped down by the government institutions and private organisations, including many schools, in the metropolis particularly after the massacre at the army-run school in Peshawar in December in which 150 people of whom 132 were young students were killed.
Officials insisted that the trees, which cut off for security reasons, were targeted only in the neighbourhoods and on the premises where they were posing `security hazards` `Not many trees have been cut from the places which are sensitive in ourpoint of view and at educational institutions, which were focused after the Peshawar attack,` said a senior official in the Sindh government home department.
However, the reason for bad planning on the part of the authorities concerned is much worse.
The government has been behaving in a way that suggests that the plantation of eucalyptus in the province, the cities in particular, has been banned, which is not true.
In fact, a provincial minister had informed the Sindh Assembly a few years ago that it was not a fact that eucalyptus had been banned for planting in the province.
`Generally the public is informed time and again to avoid planting of eucalyptus tree. However, planting of eucalyptus on marshy and marginal areas is usually prescribed,` said an official.
The tree had been imported from Australia after the fall of Dhaka 44 years ago, when the country suffered a huge crisis in provision of paper and pulp that had stopped coming after the cessation of former East Pakistan.
`It was a huge example of mismanagement, lack of vision and failure in reading the ground realities,` said Dr Tahir Qureshi, forester and coastal ecosystem expert affiliated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature the World Conservation Union.He said it took a few years when eucalyptus hazards emerged, particularly in urban centres. That water-intensive tree blocked the sewerage system and pummelled water conduits.
Experts say a eucalyptus tree consumes 90 litres of water a day and it affected the groundwater so hard that groundwater`s depth in Karachi and several other cities appallingly increased by twice or more to the previous levels.
Still, the tree for all water woes it creates is in huge demand in the country for its utility in Pakistan`s paper and pulp produces. It can be seen lined in greater numbers in North Nazimabad and other neighbourhoods of the city.
The offcials said the city and the country as whole suffered huge monetary losses when the authorities decided to cut most of eucalyptus trees from the cities to save their mains and sewerage systems. But, then they did another experiment during the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf when they planted thousands of date palm trees along the Seaview beach and on Sharea Faisal.
`Without realising that date palm trees can only be planted along shoreline through a particular technology that some Western and other developed countries have, our authorities planted them here in a fashion they normally do for any other tree and they met theworst disaster eventually,` said Dr Qureshi.
The authorities are again on the hunt of conocarpus tree, also known as the Ethiopian Teal<, which have been planted in many parts of the city and even they have become favourite ones of residents of posh Clifton and DHA neighbourhoods for its natural ability to be used as trees, shrubs and herbs.
This fast-growing tropical species has seen 10 years of existence in the city and is a success despite being propagated as toxin producer that innicts allergies in humans and kills other flora. However, some experts and citizens disagree with it.
`Conocarpus has passed a decade in many parts of Karachi; the trees brought out blossoms ten times and spread their pollen around. Similarly, hedges made up of conocarpus by citizens in Clifton have also brought out blossoms for several times and yet none has contracted any kind of allergy, said a citizen.
Similar view was of Dr Qureshi who said the tree was fantastic in nature with no dangers to life, but its use on thoroughfares and open spaces was drastically faulty.
`For example, at Sharea Faisal it has been used in a way that it has completely deprived the motorists of road vision, and at some places it provided shelter to criminals.