Development Blues of the coast of Karachi

Pakistan recently handed over a couple of islands of the coast of Karachi to “Emaar”:, which is going to put in 43 billion dollars to turn them into the ultimate gated community. There is much wrong with the planned development, but the local newspapers keep on printing nonsensical articles against the development, written by what seem to be armchair journalists whose main sources are each other’s articles and a cursory visit to whatever they’re writing about. Below are excerpts from yet another “typically bad article”: pointing out some of the problems with the common fallacies which are regurgitated in article after article:

bq. Soon, Ibrahim Hyderi and its residents will be an eyesore.

It is an eyesore now. The residents live in filth and squalor, drink diseased water and eat toxic fish. It’s certainly not a place to uphold as “uniquely Karachi”. Sadly, that is true of most of Karachi, (besides the toxic fish), but I for one would like to think that Karachi has the potential to be more that a filthy collection of slums, where half the residents are suffering from various water borne diseases. Just a little effort would have revealed that the crying need of the day for the local fishing community is a lot more development – for the govt. abandoned them a very long time ago, not even bothering to provide any basic facilities at all – even the local port is maintained by the area strongman who charges his own ‘tax’.

bq. Development is happening, progress is underway and these poor Pakistanis will soon to have to move out lest they cramp the style of the big capitalist push afoot.

Who is moving whom where? No one is kicking out the residents of Ibrahim Hyderi. The Emaar group is developing the two islands and a part of Phase 8, not Ibrahim Hyderi.

bq. Thousands of fisherfolk will not only lose access to the islands, but will also lose their right to fish in the waters surrounding the area.

The local Fisherman never used the islands. They considered them worthless. At best, every now and then a couple of ships out of many thousands would sometimes stop by to clean their nets at the Island. Numerous conversations over the last 15 years established that the residents of Ibrahim Hyderi considered them worthless. They never accessed the islands in the first place, so they’re not loosing anything by not being able to use the Islands. As for the fish, there is no human eatable fish in the waters near the islands. The only fish in the area is not fit to eat – the waters are highly toxic. See EPA reports. Now, it is next to impossible to ban the use of the water as a navigation channel, which is what the local fisherman use it for on the way to fish in the open sea.

Considering the diseased mentality of our rulers, they would love to do away with “locals” altogether, but the way to fight it is not to stop development altogether, but to make sure the authorities don’t restrict the right of way to public waters to any Pakistani citizen.

bq. there are estimated to be around 200,000 fisherfolk in Karachi.

Yes, and none of them had any use for the two islands handed over to the Emaar group. Big loss there. All the fuss about the islands from the fishermen is just the typical Pakistani reaction to big money – they want their share of the pie. The local big shot of Ibrahim Hyderi claims the islands for his own, and was trying to extract some money from the govt. Rumors has it that he’s succeeded.

bq. Circumventing the 12,000 acres of land, and the $50 million dollar bridge that will be built connecting Emaar’s mega resorts to Defence Phase VIII, will not only be time consuming for the fishermen but effectively impossible.

How do you think they go around the islands now? Their boats certainly don’t travel overland. And I’m sure you must know what a bridge is. Boats manage to go under them quite successfully all over the world, even in Pakistan.

The Islands have not been sold for USD 43 billion. The Islands haven’t been even sold. They’ve been handed over to the Emaar group which has promised (non legally binding) to invest 43 billion to develop them. The Pakistan govt. will own 15% equity in the project. No money has exchanged hands besides some implied bribes – i.e plots and apartments to the usual.

If you read the fineprint, the 43 billion USD is just the estimated value of the development on the islands once complete. It’s certainly nowhere near the amount of investment Emaar is planning to make – much of the money will be people booking flats on 100% down payments which will then be used to finance the actual construction.

bq. Pakistan’s ecosystem will also be devastated by Emaar’s ‘development’; it is not just the fisherfolk who will be sacrificed for the monstrosity of Diamond Bar Island.

Hyperbole. Most of the two islands are completely barren. There are hardly any mangroves on the main island – at best covering 5 percent of the total area. The simple fact is that the the coastal waters of Karachi are already so polluted that 12,000 acres of apartments can hardly do much much more damage. Karachi already has the most polluted coastal waters in the world according to a recent study. The polluted waters along with the lack of fresh water flowing into the sea through the Indus is slowly killing of the Mangroves – the mangroves the Emaar group is cutting down is a drop in the bucket compared to the real issues at hand.

The reality, which all the articles of this type ignore, is that developing the Islands can potentially lead to a marked improvement in the quality of the coastal waters of Karachi. At the present time raw sewage, industrial waste, and other goodies are dumped straight away into the sea at the Korangi Creek. Decades of this has led to waters which are so polluted that it is now unsafe to eat the fish from it, or even bathe in it. The Emaar group will be spending money to treat part of the waste going into the Korangi Creek, and forcing the Pakistan govt. to enforce environmental regulations along the coastline. It is not doing this out of the goodness of it’s heart, but because it makes economic sense to do so.

bq. My brother Zulfikar was especially interested in the environmental damage done to the islands, parts of which have already been bulldozed to remove any signs of nature.

Again, this is hyperbole, plain and simple. The bulldozers are shoveling sand around, not bunny rabbits and trees.

bq. The fisherfolk will be affected by the destruction of the mangroves because a sizable amount of shrimp is found in mangrove areas.

More hyperbole. The islands have a very tiny percentage of Pakistan’s mangrove forests, around 500 acres out of a total of 214,304 acres. While it is sad to see any tree die, the water in that area is already so polluted that mangroves or no mangroves, the shrimp are dying off.

bq. It goes without saying that the Sindh government is offering no compensation to the fisherfolk for the loss of their commerce.

The “fisherfolk” haven’t lost any commerce. Yet. If the govt. forbids them to use the local coastal waters, than that affect them, but so far that hasn’t happened yet. Most of the fisherman are uneducated people who aren’t quite sure as to what exactly is going on, and politicians and journalists going around spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt are just confusing things further. The local fisherman, politicians, and journalists seem to think that there are 43 billion dollars floating around somewhere in the ether, just waiting to be grabbed by he who makes the most noise. They seem to be missing out on basic economic sense.

There is much wrong with the development taking part on the coastline of Karachi, but the concerns found in most articles are just read like moaning for the sake of it. All these authors so worried about the “fisherfolk” for losing two islands haven’t even made the effort to look into their real problems – everything from the lack of a decent port and facilities at Ibrahim Hyderi to the Sindh govt. awarding fishing rights to Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean factory trawlers which have severely depleted the fishing stocks of the coastline of Pakistan, and put the livelihoods of tens of thousands of fishermen at stake. Besides that, the lack of education and awareness couple with antiquated fishing techniques means that the local fishermen have in effect signed their own mass suicide note years ago – there is already much literature and studies on the interweb on the problems with the fishing in Pakistan, so I won’t go into this. In short, the dismal state of the Pakistan fishing industry has nothing to do with a couple of islands – selling them or just leaving them as they are is not going to making a whit of a difference to the fishing community.

All these people rallying to the support of the ‘poor fisherfolk’ by trying to stop development are just tilting at windmills. There is much wrong with all the planned developments taking place along the Karachi coastline, but it seems the majority of the people making a fuss about it are just using the plight of the poor fisherman to fill up their columns, or go off on another one of their anti-whatever issue is at hand rants.

h4. further reading

* “PFF”:

* “link”:

* “IUCNP: Mangrove of Pakistan – Status and Management”:

8 thoughts on “Development Blues of the coast of Karachi”

  1. Some statements which I missed out on earlier:

    bq. In the Pakistani waters of the Arabian Sea there are approximately 300 islands.

    Pakistan doesn’t have 300 islands.

    bq. The fisherfolk will be affected by the destruction of the mangroves because a sizable amount of shrimp is found in mangrove areas. The rest of us will be affected in far more ominous ways.

    The author neglects to mention that these mangrove areas in which the aforementioned fisherfolk fish for shrimp aren’t actually on the islands. So they can continue fishing as they were – the real question is what are all the ominous ways in which the ‘rest of us’ will be affected. Will the construction sink the islands and cause a tsunami which will wreck the mainland?

    bq. …But the problem is that no one knows where this money will be deposited and how it will be invested”. I wanted to add “or with whom?

    This statement either comes from a basic inability to understand simple economics, or wholesale ignorance.

    bq. the government remains mum on the subject, hoping that their association with a super conglomerate such as Emaar will lend some credibility and legitimacy to their whole sale vending of Pakistani soil.

    Even the Pakistan govt. doesn’t need the credibility which hobnobbing with a construction company provides. Really.

    bq. Passing through the streets of Ibrahim Hyderi on my way home I saw that the bazaars were winding down after a day of business, children were walking away from the shops and towards their houses, and the open air fish market was arranging fresh seafood caught moments earlier.

    Fresh seafood caught moments earlier? In the real world real fishermen stay out to sea for weeks – the fish you see at the major markets is frozen. It might be fresh, but certainly not caught moments earlier.

    bq. Bankers’ and ministers’ hearts alike must be fluttering at the thought of an Armani hotel in Karachi; perhaps it can be built over some razed Katchi Abadis.

    Despite the massive overpopulation of Pakistan, there is still land available. Note how not a single person had to be evicted from the islands.

    bq. …here was one more thing that caught my eye — grafitti spray painted on the walls. It was black and it read “Fishermen unite — Save our islands”.

    Who sprayed it? A certain Jamote using photogenic poor fishermen to spread a hue and cry in the media trying to extort money from the govt to shut up about the Islands? A number of gullible journalists fell for that, sadly.

  2. “Soon, Ibrahim Hyderi and its residents will be an eyesore.” Sheesh, maybe we move the eyesore residents to some more distant location.

    “…will not only be time consuming for the fishermen…” Are the fisher people going to be put as labor towards bridge building?

    “Armani hotel” WTF?

  3. Damn, KO!!! Nice response. Could not imagine something like that coming out of you. It stinks of the AO-KO irony and soaks with the arrogance. But it makes soooo much sense.

    Do not forget that FB tried to highlight the plight of the poor in whatever way she could. Yes, you brought to the forefront that she was wrong but it’s never wrong to fight for poverty.

    Let tree huggers be. We’re only trying to do our part to save the world.

    You’ve done your research and kudos to that.

  4. Yawar, you can’t help anyone if you’re wrong about reality. Sounds a bit harsh, but that really is the bottom line.

    And it’s not highlighting the ‘plight of the poor’ if you’re pointing at the wrong factors – the ‘help’ is in effect negative.

  5. I think KO made some very valid and relevant points and and I agree with him. However, I also support Fatima’s views regarding her concern for the poor and the environment. She got her facts wrong, and if you apply the corrections made by KO to her argument, then the true essence of the message that still stands is: by all means carry on with the development if you must, but put in as much effort in improving environmental issues and the situation of the needy as you are in developing (if not giving it a higher priority). I agree with KO in his accuracy of fact and toning down the exaggeration of the injustices done to the fishermen etc to realism. However, i do not agree with the fact that such issues can be seen only from a purely economic perspective, and that is where i would agree more with fatima – it is the spirit to be wanting to help the poor that counts. It is a more passionate view – and i think this is essentially where the two articles differ in their views. One is an economic perspective, and the other a socio-political perspective.

  6. Very Very Good article KO. It’s Emaar, and they have spectacular projects. If anything, it will be a very very good project for Pakistan and Karachi and hopefully help to improve the current situation.

  7. I think you should debate with Mohd. Ali Shah and others at PFF to get a picture of resources and ownership. It isn’t so much about whether the islands affect fishing as much as who are part of decision-making, the lack of democracy in the political process, and the utter impoverisation of the 200K (or 400K) members of fishing communities. Basically, I think if you come from a profit incentive point of view, then sure your viewpoint will be lauded by many. You are in a gang of millions. But if you do believe in egalitarian profit sharing – if you are against privatization against flight of capital to benefit the few local and global affluent, then you will have empathy for another point of view. Otherwise a debate, even with people like Mohd. Ali Shah will make no difference to you. You have your mind made up. And the struggle is not with you but against you.

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