Experts have warned that Pakistan will run out of forests within the next 50 years if deforestation continues at the current rate. They expressed these views on the eve of the International Day of Forests which is being celebrated today around the globe.
Numerous reports issued over the years have been highlighting this issue for a long time. According to a report regarding deforestation around the globe, 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed every year.
The total forest cover in the Pakistan is disputed but a report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) mark it even lower than 2.2 percent of total land. Another report indicates that the situation is even worse and that the forest cover is near 1.91 percent. Pakistan loses 42,000 hectares or 2.1 percent of its forests every year.
Shajar Dost Tehreek President Col (r) Ejaz Nazim believes that aforestation is the only way to mitigate the impacts of the global warming. He said that there was no doubt that the water is the element essential for life and that deforestation deprives us of this basic necessity with each passing day.
He said that forests play a key role in our battle in adapting to and mitigating climate change while also contributing to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and humidity in the air.
Nazim lamented that although forestry is now one of the top priorities of many countries around the world, it has been neglected for too long in the past.
“During colonial rule, a proper mechanism was set up to save the forests of the sub-continent. After the partition, this sector was left hanging,” he said. Some of the world’s most unique trees, including oak, juniper, chilghoza pine, and deodar in Ziarat and Chitral area have been reduced to numbers, he added.
“We need to be more careful regarding our forests because we have no other survival option than to protect and conserve the forests,” he said. Appreciating the Green Grow Initiative program of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government, he said that this model should be adopted throughout the country.
In Pakistan, the large part of natural forest areas lies in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and KP. Unfortunately, the unabated cutting of trees by the timber mafia reduces forest cover to a large degree.
According to the United Nations, countries must have a forest cover of at least 25 percent of their total land while also stressing that cities must have a forest cover of 10 percent. Another report states that wood fuel provides 40 per cent of today’s global renewable energy supply and almost 900 million people, mostly in developing countries, are engaged in the wood-energy sector on a part or full-time.
Professor of Geography at Punjab University Dr Safdar Shirazi believes that a country must possess a forest cover of 25 to 30 percent of its total area for sustainable economic growth.
“The natural forest cover which lies in the country’s north part has decreased mostly because people living there have no other way to meet their energy needs,” he said, adding that many areas declared to be forests before partition have now been eliminated.
Talking about the importance of forests, Shirazi said that forests were the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80% of terrestrial animals and plants. He said that forests also provide shelter, jobs, and security for forest-dependent communities.
“Jalo Park area and Kot Lakhpat were natural forests but with the passage of time can no longer see any sign that these ever existed,” he claimed.
However, he was hopeful about the initiatives taken of the by KP and Punjab governments. “Forest departments seemed to be reluctant toward deforestation issues but the KP’s GGI program and Punjab government’s initiative like South Punjab Forest Company can help mitigate the global warming situation being faced by Pakistanm,” he said.
WWF Pakistan Forest Director Dr Masood Arshad said that forest cover has been decreasing due to the negligence of the authorities but in the past few years, the federal and provincial governments seemed to be concerned regarding the issue.
He said that KP’s GGI project was the best example in Pakistan which would not just help increase forest cover but it also provide jobs to many. “I am quite hopeful that such initiatives can be helpful not just to mitigate climate but also can help in coping with the energy crisis,” he said, adding that there was a dire need to create awareness among the public at large.
As part of the United Nations collaborative planning on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), a new mechanism has been initiated that involves paying cash credit to developing countries that protect forests and the carbon stored within them.
This way, Pakistan can earn between $400 million to $4 billion per year by conserving forests. Experts say that Pakistan should take advantage of this support because no amount of economic prosperity will save it us from ecological loss and any efforts to remediate ecological loss will cost much more than any economic gain.