The Sindh government has decided to develop a forest area of over 20,000 acres of land between Karachi and Hyderabad in order to improve the overall environmental conditions. The move to transform a vast tract of barren land belonging to the forest department was badly needed as both these urban centres have expanded exponentially with drastic reduction in green cover. Urban forestry is an emerging discipline that requires a lot of understanding to develop a sustainable urban forest.
In June 2015, temperatures rose to 44.8oC in Karachi, putting millions of dwellers at the risk of heatstroke. The extreme heat resulted in the death of over 1,200 people. This extreme weather phenomenon, which scientists termed an ‘urban heat island’ and which is expected to become more frequent and more intense due to climate change, has raised questions around factors that contributed to the high death toll among the vulnerable population. It is not clear whether any lessons were learned on how to reduce the health impact from future heatwaves.
The rapid expansion of cities takes place without any land-use planning strategy and the resulting human pressure has highly damaging effects on forests, landscapes, as well as green spaces in and around cities. The environmental impacts of urbanisation are often intensified by climate change and include increased pollution, decreased vegetation cover, as well as increased poverty and frequency of extreme climatic events. Urban trees can help mitigate some of the negative impacts and social consequences of urbanisation, and thus make cities more resilient to these changes.
Between 2000 and 2010, Pakistan lost forest cover equivalent to the size of Lahore. The country’s deforestation rate continues to be the highest in Asia and is well below the recommended cover of 25%.
Forests in Sindh have been degraded to a significant degree and their ecosystem function has ceased to exist. A report recently submitted by the forest and wildlife secretary to the Supreme Court and the chief minister provides an insight into how Sindh was deprived of its forests over the decades. The report reveals that there has been an 80% decline in the actual forest cover since 1971 and the present forest size is of 100,000 acres, which is less than 0.3% of the entire surface area. Titled ‘Fading forest of Sindh’, the report describes “illegal encroachment of forests” as the biggest problem being faced by the department as it estimates that an alarming 145,245 acres of forestland is under illegal possession. The report further revealed that “there are also instances where the forestland has been permanently transferred to private parties, in violation of state policy and neglecting clear-cut instructions of the superior courts issued from time to time.”
Moreover, a number of housing schemes are being developed between the Latifabad and Jamshoro Indus river embankment and the additional protection embankment near Hyderabad. In principle these could not be developed between the embankments as the area might be inundated during the monsoon or floods.
In the present circumstances, there is a strong need to formulate a dynamic policy for the preservation and management of all types of forests in Sindh. It is high time to act and adopt appropriate policies, so that the forest ecosystem could be revived and made functional. Participatory forest management approaches, revision and updating of Sindh forest Act of 1927 and a regular monitoring of ecosystem should be the immediate future priorities.
Without studying or understanding the ecology of the land area, trees and other vegetation cannot be planted. Trees must be planted as per the region and the present forest cover, so that they may be regenerated as per their natural history. The introduction of new, non-native species of plants and animals can have dire effects on the environment. All stakeholders should be involved in adaptive strategies.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2018.
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