Pakistan’s fast disappearing forests

Published: February 25, 2014

The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist. She holds an MA in Environment and Development from SOAS in London

In the South Asian region, countries have long started protecting their forests in recognition of their important role as water catchments, as homes for biodiversity and indigenous peoples, and as carbon storage. Even poor Himalayan countries, like Bhutan, have a remarkable forest cover of 72 per cent, while Nepal has 39.6 per cent of its total land under forests (this includes 29 per cent dense forests). India has also successfully increased its forest cover to 23 per cent, while our forests are fast disappearing.

The Global Forest Watch initiative of the World Resources Institute was recently launched and it includes Global Forest Cover Change Mapping. The forest change for Pakistan is an eye-opener because the total tree cover loss between 2000 and 2013 is shown as 10,022.4 hectare (ha), while the gain is 847.3 ha. According to Ahmad Khan of WWF-Pakistan, who has served on the research team of the Global Forest Cover Change Mapping, “This comparison indicates a loss of forests that cannot be recovered over time. This warrants a higher level of actions by the public, NGOs and private organisations.”

Khan adds, “Looking at a finer scale map of the loss, it appears that most loss is in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) followed by Azad Jammu and Kashmir.” Khan’s findings contradict the results of a study done by the government’s Pakistan Forest Institute in Peshawar, which was optimistic that forest cover is growing in K-P. The study “Land Cover Atlas of Pakistan 2012” stated that K-P’s total forest area, which was only 17 per cent earlier, had now jumped to 20.3 per cent “due to the government’s effective strategies and regular plantations”. The 2012 study also showed the total covered forest area of Pakistan as 5.1 per cent. However, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that forest cover in Pakistan is only 2.2 per cent (1.687 million ha), of which just 20.2 per cent (340,000 ha) is primary forest.

There is actually no need for all this confusion or contradiction given the advances in remote imaging via satellites that are easily available to researchers. The Global Forest Watch, for example, is an online forest monitoring system (with over 40 partners) that uses cutting-edge technologies to map the world’s forests with satellite imagery, detect changes in tree cover in near real-time, and makes this information freely available to anyone with internet access. Our policymakers only need to visit its website to see the forest change maps for Pakistan (http://www.globalforestwatch.org/map/6/30.13/72.54/PAK/).

According to the Forests IG, Syed Mahmood Nasir, “Everything is now the responsibility of the provinces. The duty of the IG Forests office is to give an opinion only when asked, so I can’t impose.” It seems like the only good news when it comes to forests is that thanks to the IG Forests office, Pakistan has recently won $3.8 million though the Readiness Fund of the Norwegian funded Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) to combat climate change and tropical deforestation. This is a readiness preparation grant to set up systems to make Pakistan ready for the ambitious UN programme Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • anon
    Feb 26, 2014 - 12:00AM

    Sir, I just want to say that please don’t allow people to exploit your op-ed page for their personal interests. Also, as a reader of your prestigious newspaper I expect that articles carried by The Express Tribune on its op-ed pages would be exclusive and informative not just a collection of data and figures from different national and international websites.

    I am unable to find any difference between this article and the one linked below except a little rewriting, though the author is same.

    http://www.dawn.com/news/1081262/earthly-matters-can-pakistans-forests-be-saved

    And also sir it appears as if your newspaper is quite impressed by people having degrees from foreign institutions … but it isn’t always true that people with foreign degrees are the only capable ones.

    And sir let me clarify that I have got no personal issue with the author of these articles rather I just want to bring it into your notice that the article published on your op-ed page wasn’t exclusive one.Recommend

  • Dojo
    Feb 26, 2014 - 12:37AM

    Nice article. Also see a reflection titled: Of Marigold at Workplace by Ally R Memon in Dawn http://www.dawn.com/news/652380/of-marigold-at-workplace

    Recommend

  • Arindom
    Feb 26, 2014 - 1:21AM

    Interesting – so Pakistan is getting ‘Arabised’ in more ways than one….

    Recommend

  • Feroz
    Feb 26, 2014 - 11:18AM

    Population explosion is putting sustained pressure on our Environment and Forests. This is fact across the board on a global level. It is true that some countries have done better at conserving their forests and its wealth, however this is merely relative to others. My estimate for forest cover in Pakistan is no more than 5%. In India it is a little better at 20% but still down from approx 35% at Independence. Frankly I do not know any country where the forest cover has increased dramatically over the last 50-100 years.
    A lot has been done to counter deforestation, but clearly it is not adequate. India was the only country in the World which was home to all the Big Cats — Lion, Tiger, Leopard, Cheetah and Snow Leopard. By the time Independence came in 1947 the Cheetah was already extinct. Today India remains the last remaining home for the Asiatic Lion numbering a mere 250 confined to a single area of hardly 500 sq kms. A single disease will make this species extinct. The fate of the Tiger is marginally better because the 1800 of them are spread across at least 15 States. With over 60% of the Worlds Tigers India could well determine if the species survives or goes extinct. The use of Diclofenac a banned Veterinary Drug has even made scavengers like Vultures almost extinct. Preserving Environment and Forests remains an uphill battle for Wildlife enthusiasts as well as Conservationists.

    Recommend

  • Hudhud
    Feb 26, 2014 - 5:36PM

    The author is just a novice. Then DG Forest Institute has done wonderful job by publishing Forest Atlas of Pakistan which is approved by the Federal Government. The forests have in fact increased in KP province over the past 3-4 years. Then Secretary Forest also got approved a summary fro revival of fresh tree harvesting under scientific management plans that were freezed in 1992 by the federal government.
    The author Rina has to mind her federal capital territory because under 18th amendment the forests of KP are responsibility of the province who is the IG Forests to give opinion when we have best qualified officers who are calling for revival of scientific management to harvest the forests. Recommend

  • Sadia
    Feb 26, 2014 - 6:00PM

    REDD+ is the only answer to these contentious figures of deforestation in Pakistan. REDD+ requires a transparent forest monitoring system to be under one National focal point who will follow UN Climate Change Standards. All these biased figures will then be clear. Second is that everything will be with the consent of the forest dependent people. The main problem of deforestation in Pakistan is that the real owners of forests who are also very poor have already sold their ownership rights to trees to the timber mafia. The timber mafia manages to bypass rules and regulations by bribery etc
    The classical case is the Parting Gift of Ex PM to Timber Mafia who bypassed the forest laws of 1970 and 1975 and made non technical bureaucracy of Kashmir Council to issue timebr release orders bypassing the IG Forests who is under law empowered to approve Management Plans of Gilgit..
    A simple inquiry and the statements in the National Assembly on this issue will reveal startling facts Indeed Recommend

  • Mariana
    Feb 26, 2014 - 6:04PM

    PML N’s Prime Minister did not approve the illegal act of the ex PM it is time of accountability. PTI chairman has fired a Minister who wanted to cut all trees under the name of scientific management.
    Did everyone else play his/ her role ? Recommend

  • Mariana
    Feb 26, 2014 - 6:13PM

    Just two days back on 24th February 2014, in a hearing of human rights committee chair Secretary Climate Change and IG Forests received standing ovation from Senator Mushahid, Senator Farhatullah Babar and Senator Saeeda of PPP for their hard work that enable Pakistan to enter the REDD domain. Senator Mushahid called on the role of media in getting the message, but no newspaper covered deforestation instead all columns are covering traffic police stone crushers and other selling news. When this is state of affairs on deforestation then lets bid farewell to forests and forestry in Pakistan Recommend

  • Dr Waheed Ch
    Feb 26, 2014 - 9:03PM

    Deforestation is such a serious issue that we have left to a handful of forest officers, a top bureaucrat and a Minister of forests in each province. Deforestation and corruption are social issues that cannot be left for God to come and help us. There was once upon a time a visionary IG Forests from KP late GM Khatak who was also later given the assignment of ambassador. Dr Khattak found the root cause of deforestation in Gilgit Baltistan and got a project approved in the 1980′s that if implemented would have saved hundreds of thousands of trees in high mountains. But the timber mafia with support of forest officers started protests and strikes against the IG Forests. And his plan to purchase and retire of all sale deeds of forests failed. The timber mafia operates in simple linear fashion they purchase rights to forests from poor owners decades in advance and then manipulate the corrupt to get one time permission to carry the timber to markets in Lahore.
    Dr Khattak tried to stop this mafia but failed, now we have dynamic IG who finds another way to compensate the real owners through REDD purchase of forest carbon by never cutting trees. If we cannot benefit from the REDD opportunity now then it will be never.

    Dr Waheed Chaudhary
    Chair Department of Anthropology
    Quaid-i-Azam University
    Islamabad Recommend

  • gp65
    Feb 26, 2014 - 9:28PM

    @Feroz: “My estimate for forest cover in Pakistan is no more than 5%. In India it is a little better at 20% but still down from approx 35% at Independence.”

    For a change your opinion is inconsistent with facts. Actually at least the textbooks in 1970s said India’s forest cover is 18% and it is now 23%. India has been growing its forest cover at the rate of 1-1.25% per decade. This might seem counterintuitive due to the population pressure that you refer to. So what are the factors that led to the increase:

    1) Use of kerosene for cooking (certainly villages do not use gas) has spread to villages reducing need to cut down wood for cooking:

    2) Many people have migrated from rural to urban areas

    3) The government is more protective of its forest cover (which is manly in Kerala, Karnataka, Assam, Uttarakhand and North East).Recommend

  • Feb 27, 2014 - 12:08PM

    @anon:
    Because the author writes for both newspapers.
    Plus other publications. She is an eminent journalist
    and environmentalist. With a stellar reputation. And
    enviable credentials. Plus and international reputation.
    Check your facts before jumping to conclusions.

    Recommend

  • Feb 28, 2014 - 7:14AM

    @Hudhud:
    E T what happened to my comment regarding
    Hudhud addressing the author as novice?

    Recommend

  • Feb 28, 2014 - 8:16AM

    Interesting piece, indeed. A tree grown is a life born.

    Let’s join hands to conserve flora and fauna.

    Conservation of Flora and Fauna
    Recommend

  • Akram K
    Mar 2, 2014 - 9:40AM

    @Mariana:
    The maths is simple :
    Price of one foot Deodar timber
    Diamer/ Gilgit 200 PKR
    Lahore market 3500 to 4000 PKr
    PTI or PML or PPP no matter which party is in power nothing can stop smuggling with this hug price gap. Must find some other way out

    Recommend

  • Raja Shaeed
    Mar 2, 2014 - 11:13AM

    @Conservation of Flora and Fauna:
    I wish this wishful thought would work, but it real world it never did. While Diamond cuts diamond, $ cuts $ ; so fid that $ that will cut the timber mafiaRecommend

  • Samina
    Mar 4, 2014 - 10:26PM

    We are told that the present Prime Minister is unlike the previous one who sold forest permits on the last date of his office. This present PM has demonstrated that he cares for forests and wildlife. So why not go for REDD+ in a big way

    Recommend

  • Rob
    Mar 5, 2014 - 5:31PM

    No tree planting campaign can bring back natural forests. REDD is about saving natural forests. Hats off to those who care for natural forests.

    Recommend

  • Dr Kami
    Mar 5, 2014 - 5:54PM

    I believe once the academia gets involved with extensive research papers and seminars the cat will be out of the bag and the mysteries on deforestation will be clear. We understand that Professors and students of Hamdard University are planning a big event on March 21 the Int’l Day of Forests

    Recommend

  • Mar 5, 2014 - 9:25PM

    @anon: As a reader, I suggest we must see the content irrespective of who has written the article, although the writer also matters. In my opinion through this article, the writer has tried to create awareness about a problem which is really too big but not everyone knows the consequences. This problem is as big and as important as electricity & natural gas shortages in the country.

    Recommend

  • Mar 5, 2014 - 11:07PM

    I commend the efforts of the author in highlighting this important issue. Deforestation in Pakistan is indeed a big problem, as big as electricity and natural gas shortages. While electricity and gas shortages can be overcome in 2 to 3 years time, but forests’ restoration requires a lot more time; and we really need to understand and tackle this problem rather seriously. People like Syed Mahmood Nasir (IG Forests in the federal government) and Mr. Shahid Rashid Awan (D.S. Punjab Forest Department) are an asset for our country. There are definitely others as well and their knowledge, expertise and efforts are beyond doubt deception of true patriotism.
    We have to understand that this problem cannot be overcome by the government alone. Media certainly has to play its role in creating awareness while civil society organizations can be instrumental in promoting forestation. From the platform of my NGO, I have organized a seminar in Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry on 21 March 2014. The objective is to involve corporate sector as well in sharing the responsibility.

    Recommend

  • Tahir Gilgit
    Mar 5, 2014 - 11:25PM

    Does the conservation society know that there one billion Rupees has so far been collected under forest royalty and meant to be used solely for forestry in Gilgit Baltistan. This amount is kept in a separate account and has so far not been used because of indifferent government machinery and cowardice of the incompetent.
    Before the politicians find a way to eat this money this must be used to retire the timber rights purchased by timber mafia from the poor forest owners. And the ownership of forests can be returned to the local and indigenous communities.
    This is the right time to retire the illegal act of the timber mafia, An act attempted by late AM Khattak then IG Forests who failed due to the merger forest officers and timber mafia of Baltistan. and Gilgit

    Recommend

  • Pat Hardcast
    Mar 5, 2014 - 11:45PM

    @Motiwala:
    May I propose the author to doa research based new write-up on the forest conservation fund lying un-utilized in the kitty of the government. A similar fund is also lying in Punjab and NWfP where this fund goes is any body’s guess

    Recommend

  • Akram Khalid
    Mar 6, 2014 - 10:28AM

    @Akram Khalid: In my comments, the word ‘deception’ is a typo error. It may please be read as ‘depiction’. Sorry for the inconvenience

    Recommend

  • Mar 6, 2014 - 10:31AM

    , Green Growth Pakistan http://greengrowth.org.pk/ is organizing a seminar at Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry on 21 March 2014. More than 100 participants from business community (mostly corporate sector), academia and research would be invited to attend the seminar. Eminent speakers will make presentations for awareness about the importance of forests. It will also provide an opportunity to Govt of punjab to convey message to the corporate sector to collaborate in developing forestry in Pakistan. The seminar will start at 1500 hrs and conclude at 1730 hrs.

    Recommend

  • Mar 6, 2014 - 12:22PM

    Green Growth Pakistan is organizing a seminar at Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry on 21 March 2014. More than 100 participants from business community (mostly corporate sector), academia and research would be invited to attend the seminar. Eminent speakers will make presentations for awareness about the importance of forests. It will also provide an opportunity to your good self to convey message to the corporate sector to collaborate in developing forestry in Pakistan. The seminar will start at 1500 hrs and conclude at 1730 hrs.

    Recommend

  • Mar 6, 2014 - 12:34PM

    Green Growth Pakistan is organizing a seminar at Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry on 21 March 2014. More than 100 participants from business community (mostly corporate sector), academia and research would be invited to attend the seminar. Eminent speakers will make presentations for awareness about the importance of forests. It will also provide an opportunity to Ministry of Forest Govt of Punjab to convey message to the corporate sector to collaborate in developing forestry in Pakistan. The seminar will start at 1500 hrs and conclude at 1730 hrs.

    Recommend

  • Mar 6, 2014 - 1:52PM

    Green Growth Pakistan is organizing a seminar at Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry on 21 March 2014. More than 100 participants from business community (mostly corporate sector), academia and research would be invited to attend the seminar. Eminent speakers will make presentations for awareness about the importance of forests. It will also provide an opportunity to Ministery of Forest Govt of Punjab to convey message to the corporate sector to collaborate in developing forestry in Pakistan. The seminar will start at 1500 hrs and conclude at 1730 hrs.

    Recommend

  • shaban Press
    Mar 11, 2014 - 11:52PM

    Food Security and deforestation in Tharparker are directly linked. Does anyone realize that hundreds of thousands of acres of sparse forest trees in Tharparker are used by cattle as fodder in dry periods. The Kandi trees in Thar are traditionally used as high nutrition feed for camels and goats when crops fail due to drought.
    Huge evacuee lands of Hindus is used by patwaris and revenue staff every year to raise agri crops instead of establishing fodder woodlots for use in years of emergency. It is said that if a man has one Kandi (prosopis) tree one camel and one goat he will never die of hunger. But all Kandi trees are gone for use by the officers of revenue and forest department. Beautiful trees of Lahoora are also use to construct houses of the big officers of Sind government.
    It is time that we assess the loss of trees that would at this time have saved livestock by providing good fodder and ultimately food for humans.

    Will WWF do a quick assessment of trees lost over the past decades by using Remote Sensing

    Recommend

  • Georgia
    Mar 12, 2014 - 12:02AM

    Can any body inform us how loss of tree cover in Thar is directly related to the present condition in Tharparkar? Traditional trees of Lahoora and Jandi were the food security of the livestock of Thar. This hardy trees can withstand drought for decades and keep producing green fodder for the livestock.
    Wher ahave all the trees gone , a satellite image will show all

    Recommend

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