Pakistanis plant trees to provide relief from scorching sun

KARACHI (REUTERS) – Mr Mulazim Hussain is proud of the trees he has planted.

Surrounded by neem saplings and vegetables sprouting up from scrubland in the Clifton district of Pakistan’s largest city Karachi, the 61-year-old recalls a time a few years ago when the area was a giant, informal rubbish tip.

“Now there is greenery and happiness, children come in the evening to play, people come to walk,” he said, speaking near a patch of trees amid a barren expanse bordered by the sea on one side and tower blocks and offices in the distance on the other.

“I have raised these plants like my children over the last four years,” he added, taking a break from his labours amid a fierce summer heatwave.

Wearing a white and brown scarf around his head and a loose, cream-coloured shirt, Mr Hussain collected dry grass from the ground and watered his cherished trees during a recent visit by Reuters reporters to the urban forest plantation project.

At the end of the day, he turned the hose on himself to cool off and clean up before heading home on his motorcycle.

The father of two is employed by an urban afforestation project in a government-owned park in Karachi’s upmarket Clifton area that is run by Mr Shahzad Qureshi, who has worked on similar projects in other Pakistani cities and overseas.

It is one of dozens of state-owned and private planting initiatives in Pakistan, where forest cover lags far behind average levels across South Asia. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, emissions of which contribute to warming global temperatures.

The aim in Clifton is to counterbalance rapid urbanisation in Karachi, a sprawling port city of some 17 million people where breakneck expansion of roads and buildings means there is less and less space for trees and parkland.

Mr Qureshi wanted to provide shade for residents seeking escape from rising temperatures – a heatwave in 2015 killed more than 400 people in the city in three days, and temperatures in the surrounding Sindh region reached record highs this year.

The trees can also attract local wildlife, mitigate urban flooding and provide new sources of food.

“The bigger the tree cover of the city the more the cooling, with a difference of up to 10 (degrees) Celsius when you are surrounded by trees,” he told Reuters, adding that the project only used native species.

“As you plant… it attracts insects, and varieties of birds start coming. Presently mongoose are roaming around in the park, and four or five varieties of chameleon.

“You give them a home, you give them food and let it happen. Nature is so beautiful.”

Does planting help?