Urbanisation, land use for agricultural practices and a lack of reforestation pose increasing threats to Pakistan’s already limited forest reserves.
“Nobody is going to remove cities to raise crops, they are going to cut forests to meet market demands,” said Inspector General of Forests at the Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) Syed Mahmood Nasir on Thursday.
He was speaking at a ceremony organised by Serena Hotel in collaboration with MoCC to celebrate the first ever International Day of Forests 2013.
Nasir said with Pakistan’s annual rate of urbanisation at 3.1 percent, these forests were under constant risk as cities continue to expand.
Forests are crucial to fighting climate change as they store 45 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide.
But Pakistan is an arid country while its forest area is already below the global and regional average, said Member Forest and Agriculture at the Planning Commission Javed Malik.
Moreover, official data shared by Nasir confirms that natural forests in Pakistan have reduced by four per cent between 1992 and 2004.
“The forest resources have not increased at the same rate as the population explosion. We need to collectively move forward to utilise land for forests so they play a role in our overall economy and ecology,” he said.
Nasir told The Express Tribune that post-18th Amendment the Rs12 billion national forestry plan could not be applied at the provincial level because adequate funding was not provided.
Later at the event, Malik officially launched Pakistan’s Clearing House Mechanism (CHM), formed as part of the nation’s commitment to the International Convention on Biological Diversity.
The convention requires signatory countries to promote cooperation and exchange of information for preserving biodiversity.
The CHM website is now live and contains information on the country’s biodiversity as well as on national laws and policies.
During his presentation, Dr Anisur Rahman of the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation said it was fundamental to support communities residing near national parks and forests in order to protect the latter.
Environmentalist Shadmeena Khanum talked about potential threats to the Margalla Hills National Park such as invasive weed growth, overgrazing and firewood use.
“If we don’t do anything about protecting forests, we would be disinheriting our own children from their environment,” Khanum said.
Students of Mashal Model School enacted Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” and upheld posters promoting forest protection. Children from Islamabad’s ALMA school also presented a song and performed a short play.
Meanwhile, owners of two plant nurseries from Swat protested in Islamabad against what they claimed were the government’s flawed forestation policies by burning seedlings of Deodar trees.
Nursery owner Shaukat Ali from Odigram, Swat, said they had planted the Deodar seedlings after being told of “social forestry” techniques by forestry departments. However, none of the departments ever bought the seedling from him in the past five years, putting Ali at a risk of Rs50-60 million in losses.
Ijaz Ali, who resides in F-10 Islamabad but owns 3 million Deodar and other tree seedlings at his nursery in Madyan, Swat, said the government was not planting any new trees and made false claims about tree plantations each year.
The seedlings, which are now four years old, would die in a year if they were not planted, Ali added.
The Deodar trees had a very “short range” because they could only be planted at high altitudes, said Nasir.
He said the ministry had helped nursery owners by putting them in touch with potential buyers.
However, Nasir felt the two nursery owners were victims of a failed business investment as no one had agreed to purchase the Deodar trees.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2013.