Wooden woes: Rapid construction after floods a threat to forests in Gilgit-Baltistan

Locals selling their timber to contractors at lucrative rates.

Shabbir Mir August 03, 2011


In the devastating aftermath of last year’s floods, construction of wooden structures has escalated in some villages in Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B), Ghizer Valley, posing a threat to forests and wildlife.

At least a dozen wooden shops have sprouted up in the main market of Gahkuch, a major town of the valley. Similarly, in the worst-hit Yaseen Valley of Ghizer District, nearly 200 shelter houses have been built using wood instead of cement and stone, after floods that affected nearly 15,000 people in the valley.”One of the after-effects of the floods was that, people cut off hundreds of trees for use in construction,” Farman Ali, a resident of the valley told The Express Tribune on Sunday. “This is an easy and fast way of building shelter,” he said. As the construction of shelter houses for the flood-affected began in Ghizer, the hard-pressed people took the opportunity to chop down trees and sold them to the contractors building the houses.

“Money and fear were the two key factors that led to cutting of trees in Ghizer,” said Ayub Shah, a lawmaker representing the valley. He added that the fear of more floods this year was another factor that drove people to cutting trees which they owned. He added that since nongovernmental and philanthropic organisations were purchasing wood at reasonably good prices, people did not think twice before felling them.

Mohammad Madad Shah, President of Yaseen Coordination Committee, said that people sold only those trees they had grown on their lands. “We were concerned about our present, not our future. People did what they thought was appropriate then,” he said, in a bid to justify the tree felling.

Recently visits to the district confirmed that several chopped trees are still lying along the roadside in Gupis Valley. Upon inquiring, the locals said that the chopped trees belonged to some residents who had sold them to contractors hired by the government and NGOs for the rehabilitation of devastated property.

Ghulam Mustafa, a development practitioner, said that cutting trees would undermine the efforts of conservationists working for the betterment of the environment, wildlife and forests resources in G-B. “It will be a blow to organisations which have spent time and energy in convincing people to grow more trees and protect their environment,” he remarked.

An official in the Forests Department in Ghizer said that there was a complete ban on the chopping of forests trees in the valley, adding that people have cut off their own trees. He opined that the disaster was huge and people cut their trees to save help others who had lost houses in the floods.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2011.


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