Severe Environmental And Economic Problems Afflict Karachi’s 'Bhains' Colony

Karachi’s Cattle Colony, known locally as Bhains Colony, is situated in the suburban areas of District Malir. It was established in around 1958 and currently approximately 1,500 established dairy farms are said to be here with around 4 lacs livestock (cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats).

Animals kept at the dairy farms produce 7,200 tonnes of dung daily and the enormous quantity of dung is directly disposed of into the neighbouring channel of sea, resulting in multiple ecological catastrophes. For decades, cow dung flowing from the farms in the area has been directly disposed of into the sea, causing immense harm to the environmental balance of the channel connected to the sea, as warned repeatedly by environmentalists.

The coast of the channel is already filled with cow dung, its basin has been piled up, mangroves surrounding the areas have been covered with the compost and a severely degraded sliver of water is left, with no or little marine life, according to the fishermen and experts working on environmental issues.

Amar Gurriro, a Karachi-based journalist covering environment-related issues extensively, says that Karachi's coast has been degraded due to many reasons:

“Sewerage of the whole city, the waste from five industrial units, oil from two ports, and the dung from the cattle colony, all are disposed of into the sea, destroying the natural environment of the coast. Any good that’s left is taken care of by overfishing and mangrove deforestation."

The degradation has not only affected marine life and the environment, but also the lives of fishermen living in the area. Rehri Goth is an ancient fishing village situated on Karachi’s coastline and it depends solely on the sea for its livelihood. However, its residents are facing severe problems.

Muhammad, 55, who has been fishing here since his childhood says, “There used to be plenty of fish species and shrimps in the channel. But now the place has turned into a gutter. This channel is nothing but a river of gobar (dung) flowing from Bhains Colony through the drains and into the Arabian Sea.”

“Fishermen do not fish or let their children swim in this area, because of contamination of dung,” said Muhammad.

Haji Umerdin, a fisherman in the area, said that in the past, there used to be plenty of fish for everyone. “Once upon a time, one could catch large fish and shrimps, but now, due to the flow of cow dung, there is nothing in the channel, not even a small fish or crabs or shrimps.”

He said that the fishermen are now compelled to travel to far-off areas of sea to fish, leading to a big increase in fuel, money and time costs for the fishermen.

Younus Khaskheli, a leader of Mahigeer Samaji Sangat, a fishermen welfare body, said that the number of industries and dairy farms is growing due to the growth of population, which, in turn, is causing an increase in the amount of waste being directly disposed of into the sea.

“Not only is it resulting in the extermination of marine and aquatic life, local fishermen who depend on it are also having to suffer greatly because of it,” he said. Moreover, he added, the creeks from Gharo to Ghizri in the city have now become lifeless toxic rivers.

“There is about a 13-feet layer of cow-dung in this creek,” he said.

Talking about the toxicity of the water, he said that due to the cattle’s dung, the water has become toxic for fishermen’s children to swim in. “How can a person become a fisherman if he doesn’t know how to swim?” he asked remorsefully.

Khaskheli urged that there is a dire need to establish a water treatment plant so that water and other material can be treated before it is dumped in the channel.

He also suggested that the cow dung can be treated in biogas plants to produce electricity for the area.

Ruqqaiyah Khaskheli, a social activist from the fisherman community, recalled her past and said that due to cow dung, this area’s environmental degradation has reached an unprecedented peak. The environmental and economic hazards are raising huge alarms.

“The sea is now dangerous for us to swim, because of skin diseases. We cannot eat fish which is caught in this area because it is toxic and unhealthy,” she said.

Shakir Umar Gujjar, a leader of the Pakistan Dairy and Cattle Farmers Association, a cattle farmers’ body, acknowledged the problem and said that the people living in the Bhains Colony are already suffering from skin and lung diseases because there is no proper system to dispose of cow dung.

“Our association is in discussion with the Sindh government and the Asian Development Bank for a biogas plant for the Red Line Bus Project. This way, the cow dung problem can be solved as well as creating fuel for the buses under the government’s public transport project,” he said.

Federal Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul last week also said that the government is planning to generate energy from cow dung available at Bhains Colony to power buses in Karachi.

When contacted, Malir’s Deputy Commissioner Ganwar Ali Leghari refused to comment on the matter, saying that the affairs of Bhains Colony did not fall under his jurisdiction and that the Karachi Municipal Corporation directly dealt with it.

Murtaza Wahab, Special Assistant to Chief Minister on Environment, Climate Change & Coastal Development Department, said that a project on biogas is in the works but he could not provide any further details.

However, he added, whereas the coast falls under the Sindh Coastal Development Authority and the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, Bhains Colony falls under KMC’s jurisdiction. “The Sindh government cannot work on the issue of the flow of cow dung in the sea alone and therefore the government has been planning to initiate collaborative efforts to resolve the issue,” he said.