Pakistan’s fast disappearing forests

The forest change for Pakistan is an eye-opener because the total tree cover loss between 2000 and 2013 is a lot.

Rina Saeed Khan 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 (

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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Georgia | 6 years ago | Reply | Recommend

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

shaban Press | 6 years ago | Reply | Recommend

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

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