How Deforestation is devastating Pakistan

By Sameet Shahid

Deforestation is devastating Pakistan – a country known to have the highest rate of deforestation in all Asia

Looking over the past few years’ climatic conditions, we cannot simply overlook the changes we are experiencing this year. Abnormal fluctuation and rise in temperature, scorching heat waves, dry weather, and the areas which were often known to have mild weather are getting warmer and receiving less rain fall.

Pakistan has a strategic geographic location in Asia with a variety of landscapes having dry terrain mostly. Due to its diverse topographic and demographic settings, Pakistan is considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate related disasters. Being a developing and climate sensitive country is going to suffer more due to climate change than the developed states, according to Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change Pakistan.

Hindu Kush-Karakoram & Himalayan glaciers are reported to be melting rapidly due to global warming. Pakistan’s 5,000 glaciers are reportedly retreating faster than any other part of the world hence the country is facing large risks of variability in monsoon rains as well as heavy floods and extended droughts. According to environmental scientists, the only way to mitigate the effects of global warming is the forestation.

Forests are an essential element of the environment as they produce oxygen, balance the atmosphere with humidity, sustain the biodiversity of flora-fauna and also provide means for forest-dependent communities. Nature has blessed the forests with the beauty of sustainability as they regulate the hydrological cycle, causing more rainfall and prevents the extreme water runoff, floods landslides & topsoil erosion as well. Tree stores water in its deep roots and allow the water to go into the soil. The volume of water retained by forests depends on characteristics such as forest cover area and tree density. A strong forest cover of 30-40% acts as a barricade against flash floods and thus preventing an enormous loss of lives & property, and reducing the damage from flooding.

Pakistan is a forest deficit country as per UNDP report. Since inception, more than 61,000 hectares of forest land has been converted to barren terrain according to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report. During 1990, the percentage of forest area in Pakistan was 3.28 which decreased up to the lowest value of 1.91 % in 2015.

Only 4.72 million hectares of its land mass is covered with forests, making it the highest deforestation rate in Asia. Global Forest Watch notes that the tree loss during 2001-2015 in Pakistan is 9267 hectares whereas tree plantation is only 850 hectares. In Sindh, 90% forest cover has been devastated due to political influence and poor policies, whereas Baluchistan has only 0.2 per cent forest cover of total forestry of the country. Punjab is losing its forest cover at an alarming rate of 2,900 hectares annually. Only 4.1 per cent of its total land reserved for protected forest annum.

Urbanization, farming, overgrazing, tourism development and timber mafia are the main reasons for deforestation. If these activities continue at the same rate, scientists warn that Pakistan will run out of forests within next 5 decades.

Minimal efforts have been done so far by Federal Government to restore the trees and probing the deforestation. In spite of all the alarming figures and data, responsible institutions do not heed of the consequences. Most of the flooding disasters are believed to have been caused by deforestation.

In this regard, KPK‘s provincial government initiative “Billion Tree Tsunami” with a budget of $300 million is much appreciable. The project involves the plantation of almost 1.5 million trees in KPK, for which a large number of nurseries have already been established. 100 million saplings have been planted all over the province. The project is hoping to bolster the forest land up to 22% and a massive number of trees shall restore and sustain the biodiversity of the region.

As per United Nation’s standards, countries must have a forest cover of at least 25 per cent of their total land while urban areas must have a forest cover of more than 10 percent. Now as the whole international community is working to achieve greener economies, it is the need of time to invest in climate compatible strategies at Federal government level in Pakistan too.

The federal government should devise strict forest protection and plantation policies, having trickle down effect up-to provincial level. Sufficient budget should be allocated in each fiscal year to carry out the forestation friendly policies. Furthermore, the timber mafia and their illicit activities should be dealt with iron hands.

Awareness regarding tree plantation should be generated among the masses through rigorous campaigns so that individuals themselves get vigilant of their environmental responsiveness. This is the only way to restore the biodiversity, environment and diverse terrestrial ecosystem within Pakistan.

Pakistan’s forests are fast disappearing

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