The civil society public interest organization members of Pakistan National Committee (PNC) of IUCN in a special meeting held recently in Karachi expressed serious concerns on the proposed development of twin Islands: Bundal and Buddo.

The meeting was chaired by the PNC Chairman Mr. Javed Jabbar, who is also Global Vice President of IUCN-The World Conservation Union.

The Pakistan National Committee of IUCN represents a unique forum in which official institutions of the Federal and Provincial Governments, official research and autonomous bodies as well as reputable civil society NGOs recognized for their public service come together to work for the shared objective of sustainable development and for the promotion of environmental values and best conservation practices.

The meeting in Karachi was attended by representatives of civil society members of PNC-IUCN including Baanhn Beli, Sungi, Shirkat Gah, Shehri, SPO, Indus Earth, WWF and representatives of the Government members from Sindh, NWFP, and official research and autonomous bodies including NIO and HEJ Research Institute of Karachi University.

At the outset of the meeting, the Chairman of PNC-IUCN Pakistan Mr. Javed Jabbar informed members that he had invited the Government of Sindh to nominate a special representative in order to enable civil society members to take note of the rationale and the justification offered by the Federal and Sindh Provincial Government on this issue. However, no special representative of the Government of Sindh was nominated to provide such information to members.

The meeting then proceeded to review the issue on a comprehensive basis.

Civil society members pointed out that, as per prominent news which has not been contradicted, actions had already been taken by the Government to forcibly evict residents of the Islands. They regretted the fact that Government which has a duty to enforce law & order was itself violating the requirements of the law with regard to the environment.

Civil society participants pointed out that Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA) provides clear guidelines as to how to proceed on such matters.

Initial environmental examination and environmental impact assessment are essential prerequisites under the law.

Section 12 of PEPA says: (1) "No proponent of a project shall commence construction or operation unless he has filed with the Federal Agency an Initial Environmental Examination or, where the project is likely to cause an adverse environmental effect, an Environmental Impact Assessment, and has obtained from the Federal Agency approval in respect thereof". Environmental Impact Assessment means an environmental study comprising collection of data, prediction of qualitative and quantitative impacts, comparison of alternatives, evaluation of preventive, mitigatory and compensatory measures, formulation of environmental management and training plans and monitoring arrangements, and framing of recommendations and such other components as may be prescribed.

The Deputy Chairman of the National Committee, Mr. Ghulam Rasool Channa, who is Conservator, Department of Wildlife, Government of Sindh said that he was taking note of the concerns expressed by civil society members and would convey the same to the Government of Sindh.

Mr. Ikramullah Khan, representing the Planning & Development Department NWFP Government said that the Federal Government and all Provincial Governments are custodians of the public interest and he was confident that all concerns and apprehensions could be removed through a balanced approach and through dialogue and consultation. He pointed out the specific provisions in the law for processing of complaints.

Mr. Tahir Qureshi from IUCN in his presentation said that Bundal and Buddo Islands were formed from the alluvial deposits of the River Indus over several centuries. These islands are close to the municipal limits of Karachi. The frontage of Islands has sand dunes and mangroves in some areas. In the past, the entire area was covered with dense growth of mangroves. However, due to change in the ecological conditions and over-exploitation, many mangroves have disappeared.

He added that the area also serves as a fishing ground for thousands of local fishermen. Flocks of migratory birds visit these islands for breeding, feeding and roosting purposes. Realising the ecological, social and economic importance of these islands, IUCN Pakistan has designated this as a high priority area. He said that in the past as well, many government organisations formulated development plans for these Islands. The defunct KDA in the early 90s created a management plan for promoting tourism. DHA earmarked these islands for recreational purposes. The oil companies which are conducting offshore surveys have also earmarked these areas as their base camps. He said that in all these processes of planning and development, local communities were completely ignored and never consulted.

Attending by special invitation in view of the extensive research, writing and advocacy they have conducted on this issue, Mr. Naseer Memon and Ms. Zubeda Birwani pointed out that in three important dimensions – governance, environmental and social – the livelihood of local communities is at grave risk.

According to estimates, about 4000 to 5000 boats navigate through the right and left side channels to the open sea. Korangi and Phitti creeks are located on these sides. Access to Korangi Creek will not be possible after the construction of the bridge that would connect DHA Phase 8 to these islands. Similarly, access to Phitti creek will also be blocked with the development of a marina club and a PAF base.

Mr. Roland de Souza, representing Shehri referred to a report titled: "Living Planet 2007". The report covers an analysis carried out by WWF on the overall ratio of global consumption of resources vs. capacity. The report also reveals that pressures on ecosystems are rising sharply and disproportionately. Consumption of resources has become excessive and will be impossible to sustain after just a few decades.

The Country Representative of IUCN Pakistan Mr. Sohail Malik, Dr. Ejaz Ahmad Deputy Director General WWF, Ms. Meher M. Nosherwani of Shirkat Gah, Mohsin Babar of Sungi, Dr. Samina Kidwai, Dr. Saifullah, Ellahi Bakhsh Baloch, Ghulam Rasool Channa, Shahid Khan, Ikram Khan, Rafi ul Haq and Nasir Ali Panhwar participated in the discussion.