Karachi : At a special meeting convened recently in Karachi of the Pakistan National Committee of IUCN Members, representatives of ten major civil society organisations / non-governmental organizations CSOs/NGOs with a special interest in the environment expressed their deep apprehensions about the planned project to construct a new city in the Indus Delta about 150 km from Karachi, to be called Zulfikarabad .
Senior officials of the Government of Sindh and the Zulfikarabad Development Authority (ZDA) emphasized that the new city is being planned to promote high-quality development for the benefit of rural and coastal communities and to relieve the pressure on Karachi and other cities. They said that all environmental principles and laws will be fully respected.
IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature is the only global organization whose members include both Governments and over 1,200 NGOs as well as about 12,000 scientists and researchers. IUCN serves the cause of the environment in over 160 countries of the world including Pakistan.
Despite a complete divergence of opinion in the meeting between the CSOs/NGOs on the one hand, and the officials on the other, the discussions were held in a cordial and mutually respectful manner, in keeping with the IUCN tradition of encouraging dialogue.
The Chairperson of PNC IUCN, Shahid Sayeed Khan, who is also the Chief Executive of Indus Earth Trust, a leading NGO, presided over the meeting. The IUCN global Vice President and Regional Councillor, West Asia, Javed Jabbar also facilitated the discussion.
Names of representatives of the leading CSOs/NGOs who participated are: Naseer Memon, CEO, SPO; Tahir Hasnain, Manager, Shirkat Gah; Meher Noshirwani, Technical Advisor, TCCR; and Fahad Maqbool, TCCR; Mohammad Ali Shah, Chairman, Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum; Nargis Latif, Managing Trustee, Gulbahao; Altaf Hussain, Senior Research Associate, PILER; Sameer Dodhy, Shehri; Ali Dehlavi and Nadia Bajwa and Tahir Abbasi of WWF; representative of Baanhn Beli and a leading architect, Arif Belgaumi.
Names of senior officials of the Government of Sindh and ZDA who participated are: Mir Hussain Ali, Secretary, Environment and Alternative Energy, Government of Sindh; Shaukat Alvi, Director Operations, ZDA; Riaz A Wagan, Conservator of Forests, Sindh Forest Department; M. Imran Sabir, EPA, Sindh.
Names of IUCN Secretariat staff who participated are: Tahir Qureshi, Ecosystem Expert; Ghulam Qadir Shah, Coordinator NRM; Rafi-ul-Haq, Coordinator MFF-Pakistan; Miriam Kugele, Coordinator, Climate Change; George Sadiq, Programme Officer; Nadeem Mirbahar, Programme Officer.
All participants made pertinent comments and contributions during the meeting.
A comprehensive background paper on Zulfikarabad prepared by Naseer Memon was circulated and tabled for reference.
In his presentation Mr. Shahid Sayed Khan stated that the CSOs/NGOs which are members of IUCN are committed to the kind of sustainable development which protects, rather than destroys ecosystems and natural resources.
He and other CSO/NGO representatives and Javed Jabbar summarized their concerns as follows: 1) Rights of local communities 2) Water needs 3) Environmental Issues 4) Vulnerability of planned site to natural disasters (earthquakes, tsunamis) 5) Need for due process. 6) Urgent unmet needs of existing cities, towns and rural areas of Sindh should be met first before creating a new urban centre.
On behalf of the Department of Environment, Government of Sindh Mir Hussain Ali stressed that in all the meetings on this subject that he has personally attended to date, the President of Pakistan, the Chief Minister of Sindh, the Sindh Minister of Environment and the Chairman of ZDA have reiterated their determination to prevent the project from damaging the environment. He said that he is confident that this pledge would be enforced and urged that sweeping statements and premature conclusions should be avoided.
In his presentation, Shaukat Alvi of ZDA said that this is a very early, initial stage of the project. Land is being acquired only in portions and is not yet contiguous. Therefore, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) to which ZDA is fully committed, cannot be conducted at this time, but will certainly be undertaken at the right stage. He said that the President of Pakistan had conceived of this project to relieve the stress and congestion already facing Karachi and to create entirely new prospects for employment, infrastructure development and economic growth for the deprived people of coastal areas. He emphasized that by applying the experience of the creation of the new city known as Shenzen in China and the signing of MoUs with leading Chinese firms, the people and economy of Pakistan will benefit greatly. He assured all present that their valid concerns would be addressed. A short promotional video was also screened.
The global Vice President of IUCN, Mr. Javed Jabbar said that in the case of such a large-scale, multi-dimensional project with serious implications for the environment because it is to be built on an internationally recognized, ecologically sensitive Ramsar site the basic concept for the project should be assessed by ECNEC long before investing huge amounts of money in purchasing land because without conceptual validity the project could become a damaging fait accompli.
After taking note of the widely differing respective view-points, the meeting nevertheless concluded with broad agreement on the following points:
1. Complete transparency is a desirable and ideal principle which shall be applied to all aspects of the planning and implementation of the project.
2. Similarly, global, regional and national laws, treaties, regulations etc. concerning the environment and the obligations of the Government will be fully respected.
3. All relevant information will be shared with the local communities, the public, with media and with CSOs/NGOs. In this context, ZDA has been requested to provide complete details to PNC at the earliest.
4. To enable constructive dialogue, consultations and communication between the CSOs/NGOs and ZDA, Government of Sindh and other official agencies will be maintained.
5. An opportunity will be sought at the earliest for environment CSOs/NGOs to directly brief the President of Pakistan and the Chairman of ZDA on their views about the proposed project.