Sanctioned environmental rape

Pakistan currently has just 2.2 per cent forest cover remaining which is abysmal.

Zahrah Nasir April 09, 2013
The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban

Environmental sustainability took a serious kick in the teeth when, on the very last day before he was to leave office, former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf sanctioned the uplift of timber, valued at eight billion rupees from an area of the country where, in an attempt at stopping rapid deforestation, movement of timber has been banned for the last 20 years.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Pakistan lost 33.2 per cent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010. This latest ‘official mistake’, however, is set to exacerbate the problem as even before the official announcement, the timber mafia in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) had seemingly already gone into action because someone in informed political circles gave them a nod and a wink.

The people of Diamer District have reportedly expressed dire concern for illegal felling of precious forest reserves which is once more in full swing. It is claimed that local authorities can do absolutely nothing about this latest official bungle, but hang their heads in confusion and environmental shame as the notification, issued by the Gilgit-Baltistan Council Secretariat Islamabad clearly states that “the prime minster has approved the disposal of legally and illegally cut timber from Diamer to down country”.

Lying timber amounts to 2.07 million cubic feet of legally cut timber and 1.93 million cubic feet of illegally felled timber. After the payment of ridiculously low fines, this will be sold off mostly to the commercial timber trade outside GB with some — the dregs — allocated for sale as fuel wood in the region itself. All sales are to be completed within the next four months, which means that people are unlikely to spend much needed cash on fuel wood right now with spring already here. However, the main point remains that with the “traditional connivance” of nefarious rogues in “high places”, the well-supported timber mafia is set to enjoy a major field day and, as always, the environment will suffer badly as yet more precious forest cover is lost.

Pakistan currently has just 2.2 per cent forest cover remaining which, for a country of 770,880 square kilometres, is abysmal and if deforestation trends continue at the same rate as they have since 1990 — a loss of 1.66 per cent or 42,000 hectares per year — it doesn’t take an Einstein to calculate that it will not be very long at all before there is no forest cover left to speak of. This would be an absolute catastrophe on many different fronts at once.

It is not just the 1,027 recognised species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians or the 4,950 recorded species of vascular plants that are endangered by deforestation; this adversely impacts climate change, too, of course, and vastly increases landslide and associated hazards. Additionally, it results in an increase in river silt which, in turn, leads to a corresponding build-up of silt in reservoirs and dams, thus impacting both essential water supplies and the production of hydroelectricity.

The often farcical, government promoted, tree planting campaigns, which are nothing more than publicity stunts, do absolutely nothing to alleviate the problem of rampant deforestation. The problem is that the timber mafia, along with the corrupt politicians and officials working hand in hand with these criminal gangs, must be brought to book while there are still forest trees standing.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2013.


Myburg Engrish | 8 years ago | Reply

Academia and activists working for REDD plus may take up this as a research project and draw lessons to save forests

Nawabs | 8 years ago | Reply

This is the case to tackle by those who promote REDD+ as tool to save natural forests by getting consent of the real owners

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