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A forest without trees

In a recent report, Pakistan has been declared the 7th most vulnerable country to climate change. But it seems that the ruling elite are taking this report with a pinch of salt.
On this issue, they seem to be following their ideological brother Donald Trump and his tedious acolytes who have the audacity to deny the very phenomenon of climate change. At least this is what their indifference to the environment and environmental degradation suggests. Even the long spell of droughts and the unusual floods in various parts of the country over the past few decades have not awakened policymakers from their slumber. Instead, they have continued to pursue policies that could be disastrous for our environment, the health of the economy and the nation as a whole in the long run.
Germanwatch, a German think-tank working towards the prevention of dangerous climate change, has revealed that Pakistan has lost 10,462 lives in 20 years and economic losses worth $3.8 billion have been incurred – which is equivalent to 0.605 percent of the GDP during the same period. The country has been recurrently affected by 141 extreme weather events in both the short-term and long-term indices. The floods of 2010 placed Pakistan on the top slot among the countries that are most affected by climate change as it lost $25.3 billion and nearly 5.4 percent of the GDP, the think-tank claims.
One of the ways to fight this menace of environmental destruction is to carry out afforestation at a massive scale and protect the existing trees. But instead of protecting trees, the country seems to be on a tree-cutting spree. The administration in Islamabad recently chopped down a number of trees to widen Embassy Road. This earned the ire of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Climate Change. Last year, deforestation and pollution in the Margalla Hills area also caught the attention of the media and policymakers. But other parts of the countries have not been as fortunate as the federal capital.
According to media reports, Lahore has lost thousands of trees in the name of development. The much-vaunted drive organised by the Punjab government to plant 14 million trees – which is part of the Prime Minister’s Green Pakistan Programme – has yet to the see the light of day. The Green Pakistan Programme seems to be confined to government files only. People have yet to see any tangible signs of massive plantation and forestation in the country. However, ruthless deforestation and the chopping down of trees are in full swing.
Now, CPEC is also used as an excuse to chop down trees and damage forests. According to a report published in Herald, Hazara division, which is one of the wettest parts of the country with large forested areas that are home to diverse wildlife, will be deprived of thousands of trees to make way for CPEC. The report claims that 13,784 trees have already been cut down from forests in Oghi and Darband in Mansehra district along with areas in Battagram, Kohistan and Torghar. In Siran, the forest division of Mansehra, 10,075 trees were chopped down in 28 villages along the CPEC route. Further south, over 3,200 mature trees from Shimla Hills, Banda Sinjilya and Thanda Maira village have been chopped off. The report further claims that in 2015 the National Highway Authority (NHA) stretching across 59.1 kilometres from Hasan Abdal to Havelian section of the E35 Highway project, deprived the region of over 2,000 fruit trees and 25,500 non-fruit or forest trees.
Chopping trees in the plains may not be as damaging as decimating them in high-altitude regions where it takes decades or even centuries for trees to become mature. In Gilgit Baltistan’s Diamer district, the government has been encouraging the chopping of trees through various amnesty schemes for decades. According to a 1952 agreement between the locals and the government, the natural resources are owned by the people instead of the state. Residents started chopping trees to earn their livelihood. Z A Bhutto’s government denied market access to these people in a bid to discourage the practice.
The caretaker government of Moeen Qureshi in 1993 slapped a ban on cutting trees in parts of what was then NWFP, GB and AJK. But since then, successive governments have devised amnesty schemes to appease the timber mafia. The incumbent government has also approved the transportation of timber that is legally and illegally logged from Diamer to other parts of the country. The government has allowed the leftover timber to be transported. The mafia just has to pay a meagre fine. Once it has been paid, the mafia is allowed to make tonnes of money at the cost of environmental degradation.
Forests are disappearing in Pakistan. This could be catastrophic for a country that has already suffered a number of natural calamities in the past few decades. According to some estimates, the country’s forest cover in 1947 stood at 33 percent. It declined to 3.3 percent by 1990 and was 1.9 percent in 2015. Within a short span of six years, deforestation rose from 0.75 percent in 2009 to 2.9 percent in 2015. We often wonder why this alarming situation hasn’t created jolts within the power corridors.
According to a report of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, natural forests accounted for 4.2 million hectares (ha) in 1992, which is 4.8 percent of the total land area of 87.98 million ha. Though the size of forest land is still 4.8 percent, the forest cover has greatly declined over the years and has resulted in soil erosion, flooding, the loss of habitat and an increased amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Many believe this forest land has even shrunk now.
Forests have a cooling impact on the global climate as they absorb carbon dioxide. Deforestation releases carbon back into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. As much as 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the world are caused by deforestation. So, fighting deforestation could be one of the ways to address this issue. In this regard, a billion-tree initiative by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, which claims to have restored 350,000 hectares of forests and degraded land this year, deserves appreciation. However, fighting the timber mafia – who, PTI Chief Imran Khan believes, caused losses worth Rs200 billion to the province – is a daunting task. The PM’s Green Pakistan Programme should also be implemented by using all available resources so as to enable the country to ward off natural calamities in the future.

The writer is a freelance journalist.
Email: egalitarianism444@gmail.com

Abdul Sattar, "A forest without trees," The News. 2017-11-21.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Environmental issues , Environmental degradation , Environmental destruction , Global warming , Climate change , Pollution , Ecosystem , Forests , Moeen Qureshi , Imran Khan , Pakistan , Kohistan , CPEC , NHA