Sky is the limit: Karachi takes its gardens into the air

Saturday, July 20, 2013

As the buildings in Karachi reach new heights, the gardens in the city too have left the grounds for the skies above.

The city’s first environment museum boasts ‘gardens in the air’ in a place surrounded by makeshift homes, open sewers, and wild bushes. Nargis Latif, the founding CEO of Gulbahao Trust – the organisation behind this unique gardening style – believes that sky is the limit.Sky is the limit: Karachi takes its gardens into the air

“If there can be homes in the air in the form of big plazas, why there can’t be gardens?” she pointed out, adding that the city lacks enough land for healthy environmental projects. “[In that case] we always have the skies to grow plants.”

At the environment museum in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, the plants are hanging at various heights, reaching up to nearly 10 feet. Most of the plantation included compost, recycled through waste, where wheat and spinach are grown above the ground. “Mud, dump, waste, we will take all the filth out of the city,” said an excited Latif, at the opening ceremony on Wednesday.

“We make compost out of waste and then grow plants from it in the air,” she said. Gulbahao is a non-government organisation that collects dumped waste and recycles it into products for daily usage.

During a presentation on the products made from the waste, Latif explained that the idea behind the project was to create more awareness. “The idea was to show the people what could be achieved if waste, instead of being dumped, is given to organisations working to recycle them,” said Latif, who has an MSc degree in Botany from the University of Karachi.

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Sky is the limit: Karachi takes its gardens into the air

Latif was aware of the handicrafts being made through waste but she wanted to produce something more useful. She said that they can use waste to make waterproof roofs, water reservoirs, portable homes and even furniture.

Waste not

The museum also has a Chandi Ghar, a large silver room, which has been made entirely from waste blocks and flex panels. This entire room took only five hours to set up, Latif said. With the help of waste wood and old cloth, she also showed how these items could be a cheap fuel pack for thermal power plants and could be used as an alternative to coal for burning in furnaces.

Even pure mineral water could be prepared easily at home with ‘Paaki Paani’, she said, as she explained how only a couple of transparent plastic bottles were filled with tap water and left under the sun for a couple of hours. “This makes it free from germs retaining the mineral content and it is better than boiled water used at homes,” she said. “The West cannot do this because they don’t have the exposure of sunlight like we have.”

Gulbahao Trust aims to produce commercially viable products. With their instant compost, wet garbage, vegetable and fruit peels, and leaves were used to produce organic compost, explained Hannan, a PhD student at the University of Karachi, who was working with Gulbahao Trust. “The process takes a day, while traditional organic compost takes four to six months,” he said.

The other environmental friendly projects on display were the garbage and gold bank – a financial institution of the future where separated dry garbage was cashed in.  Cattle Feed was made through properly dried used vegetables and fruit peel and could be used to feed farm animals. As an alternative building material, the organisation had waste blocks made of compressed clean waste comprising of shopping bags and wrappers.

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“We have indulged ourselves in cleaning the environment,” Latif said. “We should deal with Saudi Arabia by providing them with roof solutions during Hajj in exchange for petrol,” she suggested.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2013.

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