Karachi’s beaches: terminally ill, soon to perish

“The Economist on tourism in developing countries:”:http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11376167

bq. Emerging economies are suspicious about the developed world telling them to act responsibly. Why shouldn’t they exploit their natural resources? A pristine hard-to-reach beach with a small exclusive hotel may be just what rich Westerners want; local fishermen would prefer new schools for their children. But with tourism, it is not so clear that rapid development really is in the locals’ economic interest. If their government trashes their natural habitat, it is like an investment manager who pays you big dividends out of your capital. The money is good for a while, but you lose in the long term.

While Karachi has no tourists per se, this article gets straight to the heart of Karachi’s endless cycles of self destruction. The entire development of Karachi’s coastline is straight out of Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse”:http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Societies-Choose-Fail-Succeed/dp/0143036556/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1211138893&sr=8-1. Hoteliers from around the world have rushed in to take advantage of the city govt. selling away the coastline for a pittance, and now we find ourselves in the enviable position of living in “a city by the sea with not a single public beach”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/2007/09/the_sad_state_of_karachi_beaches.html.

There are no more beaches left in Karachi – there are a few pathetic remnants of once beautiful beaches – the rest have all been taken over by the military or sold off to private developers. Needless to say, they’re all walled off – I already “wrote about it earlier”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/2007/09/the_sad_state_of_karachi_beaches.html, but each visit to what’s left of Karachi’s coastline leaves me ever more depressed.

Karachi’s sea front has passed the point of no return – while the ocean washes all shores, the filth which has occupied our coastline is no longer fit to be called a beach. At the present time raw sewage, industrial waste, and other goodies are dumped straight away into the sea. Take a boat along the coastline, and you find numerous sewage pipes dumping raw sewage and industrial waste directly into the sea. Practically all the new developments on the coastline have run their sewage pipes straight into the sea. The reasons are simple – the govt. waived all environmental rights in the first place, and the second time honored argument which is trotted out every time: because a poor country like Pakistan can’t afford sewage treatment plants.

bq. That is worth remembering because the lesson from tourism in the West is that nobody keeps an eye on the capital. The bay, the ancient site, the coral reef and the fresh water have no single owner to protect them. The hotelier who raises a 1,000-room monstrosity will pay for the bricks and mortar, but not for scarring the view or wrecking an historic monument.

The sea belongs to no one, yet to everyone who ever was and ever will be, and thus we poison it through generations and wake up one day to find that it’s terminally ill.

The Economist talks about bad planning ruining future tourism – Karachi has no tourists, local or foreign so it doesn’t need to worry about that – but far from just putting off tourists the recent spate of ill-conceived development decisions is shutting off access to the sea front to the entire city.

Hemmed in one side by the desert, and the other by a rising wall of 5,6 and 7 star hotels and shopping malls strung along the coastline, where is a population of 20 million to go? Out on the streets, for the very city’s design is slowly pushing them there.

Perhaps it is fit that the barbed wire fences and walls are shutting off the coastline to the public – it saves the govt. of doing so itself once the waters off Karachi get so toxic that they’re not fit for human use. Already, some parts of the Karachi coastline have water so toxic that it’s not fit to swim in, and these pools of toxicity are slowing spreading from dumping point to dumping point till they blanket the entire coastline.

“!http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2288/2491352855_624911a6c0_m_d.jpg!”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/abro/2491352855/ The Economist concludes its article with the advice _don’t pave paradise to put up a parking lot._ – well, this picture says everything. This is a Karachi beach, and if the DHA gets it’s way, the little scraps of public beaches left over well all look like this, with variation in tile colors, of course.

Brings forth to mind Edgar Allan Poe, “The City in the Sea” from 1831:

bq.. Lo! Death has reared himself a throne

In a strange city lying alone

Far down within the dim West,

Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best

Have gone to their eternal rest.

There shrines and palaces and towers

(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)

Resemble nothing that is ours.

Around, by lifting winds forgot,

Resignedly beneath the sky

The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy heaven come down

On the long night-time of that town;

But light from out the lurid sea

Streams up the turrets silently —

Gleams up the pinnacles far and free —

Up domes — up spires — up kingly halls —

Up fanes — up Babylon-like walls —

Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers

Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers —

Up many and many a marvelous shrine

Whose wreathéd friezes intertwine

The viol, the violet, and the vine.

So blend the turrets and shadows there

That all seem pendulous in the air,

While from a proud tower in the town

Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves

Yawn level with the luminous waves;

But not the riches there that lie

In each idol’s diamond eye —

Not the gaily-jeweled dead

Tempt the waters from their bed;

For no ripples curl, alas!

Along that wilderness of glass —

No swellings tell that winds may be

Upon some far-off happier sea —

No heavings hint that winds have been

On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!

The wave — there is a movement there!

As if the towers had thrust aside,

In slightly sinking, the dull tide —

As if their tops had feebly given

A void within the filmy Heaven.

The waves have now a redder glow —

The hours are breathing faint and low —

And when, amid no earthly moans,

Down, down that town shall settle hence,

Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,

Shall do it reverence.

h4. Further reading

* “Collapse”:http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Societies-Choose-Fail-Succeed/dp/0143036556/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1211138893&sr=8-1

* “The life and death of great American cities”:http://www.amazon.com/Death-American-Cities-Modern-Library/dp/0679600477/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1211138886&sr=8-1

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