To mark World Environment Day, Karachi is announcing plans to rehabilitate and expand green spaces in the Pakistani megacity, bringing relief from pollution and shady, recreational spaces for its residents.
Safari Park and Aziz Bhatti Park between them cover almost 300 acres, but they are currently only partially developed. The plan is to turn them into green, tree-filled havens in the middle of the city, Pakistan’s biggest with a population of about 17 million.
“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago,” said Wasim Akther, Mayor of Karachi. “The second-best time is now.”
According to Afaq Mirza, Director General of Parks for Karachi, these green areas are essential to deal with the growing environmental problems confronting the city, which is a major industrial centre and the country’s principal port.
“The city is large, full of cars, buses and motorcycles, which bring carbon monoxide,” said Mirza. “Trees and parks are the lungs of the city. Even though we have limited facilities and obsolete equipment, we are on the job and trying to make Karachi greener by setting the trend of ‘Plant a tree and care’”.
The theme of World Environment Day this year is connecting people to nature. Researchers have found that those of us who spend more time in green spaces have lower levels of stress, and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Interacting with nature can also improve cognition for children with attention deficits and people with depression.
According to Mahenau Agha, a senior UN Environment employee who grew up in Karachi and is helping the project on a voluntary basis, these benefits can make a real difference to poorer communities in the city.
“Karachi is one of the largest cities in the world, has grown haphazardly, has very little greenery and faces increasing heat waves,” she said. “The proposed areas are in the middle of the city in a residential neighborhood, and will provide a crucial outlet for people living in poor areas – not just helping with air quality, but providing real mental and physical health benefits.”