Terrorism and the loss of forests

As deforestation is an insidious input to terror, army should revisit plans to acquire 9,700 acres of reserved forest

Roland Desouza August 25, 2015
The writer is an electrical engineer with an abiding interest in the environment and human rights

The Pakistan Army is presently fighting a war against terrorists of all persuasions, conventional — Operation Zarb-e-Azb — and political/economic — operation in Karachi — within the borders of our country. Terrorism is a subject on which elected politicians have often been unable to develop a consensus. They are not willing to stand up to religious extremists, who have held this nation hostage for many years, nor are they able to root out entrenched politically-sponsored criminals (anti-corruption establishments and CM’s inspection teams notwithstanding) who have paralysed life for ordinary citizens, especially in urban Sindh.

It must, however, be recognised that this war is merely being waged against the symptoms of the problem: it is not addressing the fundamental, ultimate causes. For an insight into a significant factor exacerbating terrorism around the globe, one could usefully peruse the studies published by the Military Advisory Board (MAB), a blue-ribbon American defence advisory group comprising 11 retired three-star and four-star generals and admirals, no tree-hugging environmentalists, who were convened to examine the adverse and ‘inconvenient’ implications of climate change on US national security.

In April 2007, the MAB issued its first report titled "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change” commissioned by a government-financed research body, CNA Corporation. The study alarmingly highlighted that climate change would pose a serious threat to America’s national safety, especially by escalating and multiplying instability threats in already volatile regions (read Pakistan). Regrettably, the Bush administration ignored the report, holding that global warming was a myth.

In May 2014, an MAB update, "National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change" reiterated and intensified its previous verdict. The New York Times reported that MAB “found that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating long-standing regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. The report also found that rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions like eastern India, Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam at risk and could lead to a new wave of refugees. In addition, the report predicted that an increase in catastrophic weather events around the world will create more demand for American troops, even as flooding and extreme weather events at home could damage naval ports and military bases.”

Two months earlier, in March 2014, a Pentagon public document outlining the current doctrine of the US military, “Quadrennial Defense Review”  had recognised the nexus between the effects of climate change (including sea levels rise and extreme weather fluctuations) and terrorism: “These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad, such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions — conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”

Fortunately, MAB and the US military have now found a better listener in President Barack Obama. Using his May 2015 commencement address to graduates of the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, Obama re-emphasised that the warming of the earth poses a “threat multiplier” to the US. He told listeners that a green environmental plan was beneficial for the economy, protected public health and was critical to the nation’s security. “I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and make no mistake it will impact how our military defends our country.”

Our military establishment could learn something from reading the above-mentioned reports. It may also understand why our country is prominent in Maplecraft’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2014map. It may realise why Germanwatch’s Long-Term Climate Risk Index 2015 has Pakistan among the 10 countries most affected by climate change during the period 1994 to 2013 (it topped the list during the 2010 floods that killed 2,000 people and displaced 20 million, with the World Bank estimating losses to have exceeded $10 billion). It may be surprised to learn from the World Bank evaluation, Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment 2006, in which our annual ecological degradation was equivalent to six per cent of GDP, while our economic growth that year was the same amount: a classic case of ‘one step forward, one step back’! Now, with a less than 4.5 per cent GDP growth rate, we are actually going backwards.

Many South Asian countries have remarkable forest cover: Bhutan has 85.8 per cent, Nepal 25.4 per cent, Sri Lanka 29.2 per cent, India 23.1 per cent. China’s forest cover has increased from 12 to 22.6 per cent over the past 25 years through a massive reforestation programme. Asia’s average forest cover is around 20 per cent, while the world’s is 29 per cent. Pakistan’s meagre 2.1 per centdecreasing forest cover (a balanced economy needs in excess of 25 per cent) is fast vanishing, especially in Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Punjab. The primary causes are unbridled urbanisation, unlawful conversion to farming, over-grazing and tourism, leading to desertificationflooding and decimation of biodiversity and wildlife. Deforestation contributes between 12 and 20 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second-largest source (after fossil fuels) of anthropogenic climate change.

All 120 mitigation and adaptation principles enunciated in Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) 2012, including some excellent ones on forest protection and enhancement, have been observed in the breach. Like an errant student cramming for an exam the night before, a frantic series of fruitless meetings have been held in Islamabad over recent months to prepare a report for the UN Climate Change Conference scheduled for November 2015: our ministers (and PM?) and secretaries will go to Paris with their entourages, shed tears over Pakistan’s vulnerability to global warming, and vainly boast about the outstanding (but unimplemented) features of the NCCP. Will we fool anyone? Do we not comprehend that we are committing ecological suicide?

Over the past 10 years, the voracious Sindh government has recklessly amended and violated forest laws to uproot the majority of trees and lease land to elite groups to grow sugarcane. Apparently, it is completely unaware of the NCCP policies or believes that these do not apply to the province.

As deforestation is an insidious input to terrorism, our military should revisit its plans to acquire 9,700 acres of reserved forest in the Shirkarpur district of Sindh for conversion to agricultural land for war-wounded soldiers and martyrs’ families. Is there no non-forest land available for this purpose? Will this not negate the excellent work the military is doing in combating violence in Sindh and the rest of the country? Will this, ultimately, not promote the very terrorism that it is battling?

Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2015.

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Gp65 | 6 years ago | Reply Incidentally when I was in school - 30 years back, we were taught that India has 18% forest cover. The fact that it has now got 23% cover means that the deforestation trend can be reversed. India has similarly reversed the trend of tigers vanishing from Indian forests and number of tigers is rising. Good luck to Pakistan. I hope the trend can be reversed. The articles on houbara bustards created awareness around that issue. I hope this article serves a similar purpose.
ILikeit! | 6 years ago | Reply Excellent piece of work! General national habit of lawlessness is also a factor in every government office, regardless. "Lawlessness" should be equated with terrorism at national that is a threat to National Security at alarming level.
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