SHANGHAI: Deforestation is a main ecological concern around the globe, which includes the cutting down, burning, and destruction of forests. According to research, deforestation may be the first connection in a chain of environment degradation that includes land erosion, climatic changes, loss of biodiversity, air pollution, decline in watershed functions and the visible loss of aesthetic stocks. According to the Government of Pakistan, forests occupy about 4.6 million hectares (Mha) of the country’s land area. This includes 1.96 Mha of coniferous forests (43 per cent of the total forest cover), 1.72 Mha shrubs or foothill forests (37.2 per cent), irrigated plantations (0.234 Mha), riverine (0.297 Mha) and mangroves (0.35 Mha) in the Indus river delta. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has 40 per cent of the country’s forest cover, the Northern Areas 15.7 per cent and Azad Jammu & Kashmir 6.5 per cent.
One of the primary reasons for deforestation is a burgeoning and very competitive world economy, which forces countries with limited resources to accelerate the use of these resources. Although the forest resources of Pakistan are meager when compared to other countries, they do contribute significantly to its economy. People rely on forests for fodder, timber and wood for fuel. The latter in fact is the most significant source of fuel energy for cooking and heating in most Pakistani rural households. In addition, people living around the forests collect diverse non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for use at the household level and for cash income.
Farmers have to practice intensive methods of cultivation, and bring marginal land under cultivation through encroachment of forests and of steep slopes. Therefore, in Pakistan, deforestation is a very serious ecological issue. According to an estimate, 39,000 hectares of forests are lost every year. According to UN figures, the deforestation rate in Pakistan was 1.5 per cent annually between 1990-2000.
Removal of tracts of forest to grow crops by people , increase of urbanisation, road construction, dependence of rural population on wood for fuel, overgrazing of land by cattle and the activities of the timber mafia are some causes of forests depleting in Pakistan. Therefore, governments as well as environmentalists have some major challenges to fight and overcome.
Environmentalists have been trying to create awareness among the general public and lobbying the government to immediately act on the issue and curb rising deforestation.
Deforestation could be stopped if people were more environmentally mindful. One way of doing this could be the establishment of more forestry institutions in different regions of Pakistan so that education and research on the issue can be disseminated on a wider level. Steps should be taken to encourage forestry education and make it part of the mainstream curriculum and syllabus in the country. We also need to see projects using an integrated forestry approach, and include issues related to social forestry and watershed management. Equally importantly, the government should also implement existing legislation to effectively stop deforestation. Not only that, it must also act to encourage reforestation.
People harvest forests to meet their own domestic needs and in most cases they do so without caring about the effects this has on the future. An example of this is the devastation caused by the 2010 flood, which was in large part because of rapid deforestation taking place along the banks of our rivers as well as the mountains.
While reforestation can help, it usually does not revert a forest that was once a primary forest back to its initial state, and the result is usually that it exists at a reduced secondary level.
Arshad Ali (Gold Medalist)
Department of Environmental Science
East China Normal University,
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2014.