PTI govt clueless about land covered by forests in country

Reports say less than a quarter of federal capital covered by forests

Shabbir Hussain May 24, 2019
A Reuters file photo of the Bialowieza forest in Europe.

ISLAMABAD: The government lacks any actual data regarding the total area of the country which is under forest cover with the last effort to compile data coming in 2011. Moreover, there is no parameter to measure the increase or decrease in forests in the country after the billion tree tsunami programme.

Sources in the climate change ministry have disclosed that two years ago, the previous government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had conducted a survey under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and sustainable management of forests (REDD Plus) programme.

However, after its results were disputed, neither the report nor the survey data emerged onto the public scene.

Sources say that according to land cover Atlas of Pakistan, constituted by Pakistan Forest Institute, Peshawar in 2011, around 4.549 million hectares of land in the country is covered by forests or around 5.1% of Pakistan’s total area.

However, a survey conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2017 found forest cover around 5.7% of all land in the country. Moreover, it noted that Pakistan had lost some 43,000 hectares of forest every year from 2000 to 2010. This is half the size of the total land of Islamabad and is the highest rate of deforestation in Asia.

The survey found that Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) had the most area covered by forests or around 435,138 hectares. This amounts to 36.9% of the Himalayan state’s area.

Similarly, around 1.509 million hectares of land is covered by forests in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) or around 20.3% of the total land of the province.

In Islamabad, forests cover around 20,343 hectares of land, which is 22.6% of the total land. Similarly, in the formally Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), 534,579 hectares of land is covered by forests, forming around 19.5 per cent of the tribal belt’s total area.

In Gilgit-Baltistan, forests cover around 3.04 million hectares or only 4.9% of the total land of the mountainous region.

Sindh has around 660,584 hectares of land covered by forests or around 4.6% of its total area. Punjab, being the most populated province of Pakistan, only has 553,862 hectares land covered by the forests or only 2.7% of its total area.

The country’s largest province by size, Balochistan, only has 498,904 hectares of land covered by forests or just 1.4% of its total land.

Moreover, a report by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that around 1.617 million hectares of land are covered by forests which are 2.2% of the total land.

A World Bank report, though, ranks Pakistan at 113 out of 143 countries for the lowest rate of forests. Climate Change Ministry officials, though, say that Pakistan is amongst the 56 countries where forests cover around 10% of the total land in the country.

Plastic bags

Members of the public and representatives of social welfare organisations have resented the proposed legislation to authorise industries to manufacture or import flat polythene bags for general consumption besides its usage in industrial packing, primary industrial packing, municipal waste, hospital waste and hazardous waste.

The resentment emerged during a consultative meeting organised by the Climate Change Ministry. The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister’s Advisor on Climate Malik Amin Aslam and was attended by plastic manufacturers, environmentalists, industry and civil society representatives.

Participants were of the view that since the draft legislation has already been submitted to the Law Ministry for approval, the ‘after-the-fact’ consultative process appeared to be meaningless.

Devcom-Pakistan Executive Director Munir Ahmed, who attended the meeting, said that the proposed legislation has two parts. The first explicitly imposes a ban on all types of plastics bags from June 5 onwards with a cut-off date for a complete ban on the sale and use of plastic bags within the jurisdiction of the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

The second part of the same legislation, though, intends to authorise the plastic industry to manufacture or import flat polythene bags for general consumption.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2019.

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