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Sunday, February 25, 2024  
14 Shaban 1445  

ADB ditches Malir Expressway in victory for farmers

Massive environmental damage flagged
Map by M. N. Shehryar, an Urban Studies major at Yale-NUS college
Map by M. N. Shehryar, an Urban Studies major at Yale-NUS college

The Asian Development Bank has taken the Malir Expressway off its list of priorities, it emerged on Friday, in a victory for the farmers who flagged complaints it would cause environmental damage.

“We would like to inform you that the Malir Expressway Project is no longer an ADB assisted project,” said a letter from the ADB Accountability Mechanism office.

There were extensive discussions and a focus on climate change risks, it said. “The Government of Sindh as an ADB partner understands the importance ADB attaches to addressing climate change risk,” it said. “… with these developments, the Malir Expressway Project has been taken off the priority lists for funding through ADB resources.”

Earlier on in January

The Malir Expressway will be partially opened in August 2023, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had declared on January 1. Ten days earlier, however, the donor supporting the project, the ADB, said it would start investigating complaints raised by the Indigenous Legal Rights group against the expressway.

The Malir Expressway aims to connect Karachi’s DHA to the Super Highway where new real estate developments such as Bahria Town and DHA City have come up in recent years. The route starts in Korangi and ends in Malir-Kathore.

According to a handout from CM House, Murad Ali Shah argued that the expressway was needed as Karachi’s growth has hit 20 million.

“Due to the phenomenal population growth, increase in vehicular traffic, congestion and traffic jams arise on major roads of the city,” the statement said. “Hence, road users are facing an inconvenience/hazards like wastage of time, fuel, environmental pollution, and accidents.” The shipping container heavy traffic headed upcountry adds extra volume to the city roads up to the Super Highway (Motorway M9) and National Highway N-5.

This is why the Sindh government decided to create a shortest alternate route to connect the motorway to the city center. The handout did not mention the Lyari Expressway which was created in 2002 for the same purpose and displaced thousands of people in the process.

The Sindh government felt that the best option to connect to the M9 was a six-lane dualized Expressway along the left bank of the Malir River, starting from KPT Interchange near Qayyumabad and ending at the Motorway at 50km, at Kathore. As of January 2023, earthwork is underway and the construction of the EBM and Shah Faisal interchanges at RD-15 (a distance measurement) of the expressway.

Who is paying for the Malir Expressway?

(Text by Mahim Maher)

According to the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, £109 million of private sector finance has been mobilised for the Malir Expressway road project. “This will result in an estimated saving of £30.29m to the Government of Sindh, once the project passes final ADB safeguarding compliance,” it says. “It demonstrates the strength of PPP’s as a way of closing the infrastructure financing gap, and means the Sindh component will provide a positive return on UK investment from this project alone.”

The expressway is part of a larger partnership between the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, the ADB, the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and the Government of Pakistan.

The Malir Expressway is leveraging Rs23.4 billion (£109m) of sponsor equity and commercial debt against government equity funding of Rs4.1 billion (£19m).

The story of how two farmers complained to the ADB

(Text by Abira Ashfaq and Yasir Husain)

On November 9, 2022, long-time Malir residents and farmers, Mohammad Aslam and Azeem Dehkan, finalized their complaint before the Asian Development Bank against the Malir Expressway. They did this through the Indigenous Rights Legal group.

The farmers claimed that the Government of Sindh, which has borrowed money from the ADB, conducted an improper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). An Environmental Impact Assessment, as its name suggests, surveys an area before a major project and looks at how its environment will be affected by it. These assessments are mandatory for such big infrastructure.

The ADB lends money as an international ‘donor’ for projects across the globe. It does, however, have an accountability mechanism which responds to concerns of people who may be affected by any ADB-assisted project. This accountability works through the ADB’s Office of the Special Project Facilitator which undertakes fair, transparent, and consensus-based problem-solving.

This is the office the farmers approached as they maintain that the Malir Expressway causes immense environmental, ecological, and economic damage which was overlooked when the Environmental Impact Assessment was being conducted by the Sindh government.

The OSPF (Special Project Facilitator) team held a virtual meeting with the complainants on November 22. The ADB subsequently found the farmers’ complaint was eligible, on Dec 20. The farmers chose the problem solving option.

Farmers Mohammad Aslam, Azeem Dehkan and other Malir residents are being supported by members of the Sindh Indigenous Rights Alliance, Karachi Bachao Tehreek, the Green Pakistan Coalition and the Malir Expressway Action Committee. They had exhausted local remedies before resorting to the ADB’s accountability mechanism.

They first filed their complaints before the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) at the environment impact hearing held in March. They then reached out to the country ADB staff and sent them a copy of the complaint filed before the ADB. Eventually, local ADB officials came to Karachi in late October and met the complainants and their representatives. However, the parties did not reach any resolution. The Malir locals also filed a case before the Sindh Environmental Tribunal but it has been adjourned several times and has not reached any decision.

The complainants specified multiple violations in their written complaints, as well as at the November 22 hearing. For example, they pointed out that the impact on the environment was assessed on March 9, 2022 after work on the Malir Expressway had started.

During their meetings with ADB officials from Islamabad and at the complaint eligibility hearing, they added other procedural irregularities. For example, the Malir Expressway’s design has shifted, which would render the whole EIA process void. And another example is that the borrower (Sindh government) had not prepared a Land Acquisition & Resettlement Plan which is required by the ADB as part of its due diligence. This would be a plan to resettle people who are being displaced by the Malir Expressway.

The Asian Development Bank has a clear Safeguard Policy Statement 2009. It says that whenever a project affects the livelihoods, culture, human rights and dignity of indigenous people, impacts the environment, or causes involuntary resettlement, the entity undertaking the project must hold meaningful stakeholder consultations. In simpler words, the Sindh government had to talk to the people of Malir before building a highway through their land.

The Sindh government interviewed a total of 240 households within the settlements located along the site to collect socio-economic data. It held only six consultative meetings with 98 people, which the complainants find to be grossly unrepresentative of the populations of Malir and especially its women farmers who the Sindh government barely engaged with in a meaningful manner.

This left a glaring gap in the EIA as there was no mention of the agricultural economic activities of Karachi’s rural women and how their livelihoods would be impacted. This omission is worrying as climate change impacts rural women more as they rely on natural resources to manage their households and rivers and farms for livelihoods. The Malir Expressway and Bahria Town-like projects that concretize green areas impact women’s economic activity and reduces their mobility and autonomy.

In addition, the farmers claimed that ADB’s own policy for Pakistan was being contravened. The ADB strategy recognizes Pakistan’s exposure to hazards and climate change impacts (floods, droughts, cyclones, and extreme weather events). It speak of states “that will increase in frequency and severity with harmful associated effects on agricultural productivity, water availability, and infrastructure reliability.”

Pakistan’s obligations under international law and its own domestic legislation, the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017, makes it necessary to preserve forests and biodiversity. The farmers stated that the Malir Expressway flies in the face of both the law and the ADB’s own country strategy as it will reduce agricultural productivity and will also cause damage to an essential green belt on the outskirts of Karachi along the Malir River, protecting the city from the harsh effects of climate change especially heat waves and floods.

The ADB strategy also aims for improved connectivity. The farmers argued that the expressway does not “promote connectivity, safety, climate resilience, environmental sustainability, and inclusiveness.” It will connect two elite areas - Phase I to VIII and Clifton to DHA City in DHA Phase IX, Education City and Bahria Town near the Super Highway. It is not an inclusive project and does not benefit most working-class commuters. Moreover, since the road will block parts of the Malir riverbank, according to residents, it is environmentally unsustainable and reduces climate resilience.

The ADB and World Bank funded Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) proved to be an unmitigated disaster as it blocked natural water courses (naddis and nullahs) and Malir Expressway will do the same and make the area more vulnerable to the effects of flooding.

According to Arif Hasan, this huge green space on either side of the Malir River was spared in previous master plans. But the government has picked an old plan in which the expressway passes right on the Malir river floodplain to connects Orangi and the Super Highway

The EIAs profess the water flow in four nullahs will be interrupted. These are the nullahs behind PAF Museum, Chakora Nullah, Thaddo Nullah, and a Malir River tributary (Konkar Naddi). The Sindh government (the borrower) proposes bridges for crossings and “box and pipe culverts are being proposed along with specific design arrangements for the crossing of the sewerage and storm water drainage outlets”. Community stakeholders objected to this at the EIA hearing and added that the proponents have not assessed various critical aspects of hydrologic changes including structural integrity of culverts that will be built especially during floods, how these culverts will affect riverbeds

A white-rump vulture photographed by Waja Sadiq Baloch at Malir River, just a few meters away from the earthwork being done for the Malir Expressway. This bird was discovered after decades. The species was resident to Karachi until the 1990s. The point where it was discovered is going to be excavated within a few days.
A white-rump vulture photographed by Waja Sadiq Baloch at Malir River, just a few meters away from the earthwork being done for the Malir Expressway. This bird was discovered after decades. The species was resident to Karachi until the 1990s. The point where it was discovered is going to be excavated within a few days.

The complainants provided substantial evidence of the damage to biodiversity and said the EIA misrepresented the area as barren and degraded. The area is a rich agricultural belt, has a large number of trees and is a support area for Kirthar National Park, and in fact is being slowly destroyed with projects such as the Malir Expressway, illegal factories operating in violation of zoning laws, and elite gated housing projects.

According to local experts like Baloch, trees cannot simply be replaced (as the Sindh government purports to want to do) with new ones and there is immense ecological harm when one removes existing ones. Baloch said there are at least 176 bird species at Malir Dam, just one location along the project site. Contrary to the EIA’s conclusion that, “there are no species of conservation importance, endemic species, endangered, critically endangered” Baloch stated at least two bird species that are in endangered status as per the IUCN red list - the Steppe Eagle and the Egyptian Vulture. As a result of construction of housing communities like Bahria and DHA, it is a common to now find carcasses of ten mammal species and four reptile ones found in this area and its vicinity.

A little girl wipes away the tears as her house is demolished in Jumma Goth. The still is taken from a video from this week.
A little girl wipes away the tears as her house is demolished in Jumma Goth. The still is taken from a video from this week.

The Malir Expressway will further impoverish their habitat by depriving them of space and essential water bodies and exposing them to pollution. Claimants referred to the orchards and farms that will be affected by the expressway and listed the number of vegetables and fruits indigenous to the area that have been a vibrant component of Karachi’s economy and culinary traditions. Indigenous Rights Alliance organized trips to a Baloch library that will be demolished, colonial era Dumlotee wells that could be replenished and put to use instead of being wiped out, as well as possible archeological sites.

The Asian Development Bank stated, during one of its meetings, that Kalash people are officially notified with indigenous status in Pakistan. The complainants contend that they too are indigenous, local to the land and trace their history back multiple centuries. The ADB itself professes that the definition of indigenous people is an evolving one.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2008) list protections for indigenous lands and culture and have significant applicability for Baloch and Sindhi communities. They have been dispossessed of their native lands, have been subjected to historic injustices and thus must be centered in planning the use of their lands and in climate mitigation and adaptation policies. This should be done as per the declaration with an aim to protect indigenous cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies. Malir is a historic district, traditionally used for farming, grazing, and orchards. It has a rich history that includes the travels of one of Sindh most revered Sufis Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

The Malir Expressway represents a form of elite-centered housing and road development that erases Malir’s cultural capital, harms traditional orchards and farming, blocks natural waterways, renders Karachi more climate vulnerable, and causes immense ecological damage. Hence, the people of Malir reject it. They also reject projects funded by international banks that add to the country’s debt crisis and drive funds away from the social sector. In order to improve adaptation to climate change, we must not cede any more of the commons, especially agricultural land.

Map by M. N. Shehryar, a final-year Urban Studies major at Yale-NUS college

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