The World Environment Day is being marked on June 5 across the world including Pakistan to highlight the significance of the day and innumerable benefits and services the forest resources provide to the man and the beast.
The theme of this year’s environment day is ‘Forests: Nature at Your Service’, which has been coined to raise awareness of how investing in forests and in an array of services the forests provide. For instance, livelihood, clean air, soil maintenance, medicine and tourism.
The theme will also highlight unprecedented significance and value of these [now fast depleting] natural resources and that how augmented public and private investment in effective forest management and forest resources can generate more employment, drastically reduce deforestation and help tackle global warming.
The state of forests in Pakistan is precarious. Our forests resources are fast depleting as thousands of forest trees are being chopped down in different parts of the country, now at a higher pace as compared to past two decades.
A study has indicated that Pakistan has exhibited the highest annual desforestation rate in Asia, leading to the wholesale disappearance of trees, shrubs and ground flora together with the vertebrate and invertebrate fauna they normally support.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan’s (WWF-P) report ‘The conversion of forests to other land uses’, at present the forests in Pakistan cover a mere 2.5 % of the country’s total land mass.
The report further recounts that over 4.242 million hectares in the country accounted for forest land in 1992 however in 2001, this figure declined to 3.44 million hectares. The report further warns that if the current deforestation rate of 2.1 percent and trend of land conversion from forestry to other uses was not severely contained, Pakistan would fail to meet its MDG commitment to increase forest cover from 2.5 percent to 6 percent by 2015.
More than 61,000 hectares of forest land have been converted to non-forest, and WWF-P proposes that the government should place an immediate ban on conversion of forest land to non-forestry uses, commercial harvesting and allotments; stringently enforce forest laws; and actively recover forest land from encroachers and implement long-term wide-spread reforestation schemes.
However, the report suggests that “in extremely important cases, where conversion of forest lands becomes unavoidable, necessary provisions in the law must be made for compensatory forestation on twice the land being converted / allotted.”
The major serious threat to the country’s forests comes from the ‘unchecked tree cutting’. Different reasons have been identified by the forest conservationists and environmentalist for unsustainable tree cutting. These include: absence of political will and commitment, bad or poor planning, unworkable forest working plans and weak enforcement of forest protection laws.
The other causes of the forest trees cutting as identified by different stakeholders are: poverty, population pressure, lack of fuelwood alternatives and ignorance about sustainable resource use methods among the masses. Unchecked use of pesticides, diseases and damage by insects and fires are other factors, which have led to degradation of forest resources in the country.
The cutting of forests, environmentalists say, is expected to go up in line with the growth of population projected at about 3 per cent a year, which threatens the lives of millions of people, who directly or indirectly eke out their livelihood from them.
Unchecked deforestation has grave effects on country’s different socio, economic, agro-ecosystems, biodiversity, wildlife, water and people. With the rapidly depleting forest cover, habitats of different wildlife species including birds are at stake.
The biodiversity action plan for Pakistan, made up of 13 components, corresponds to specific articles of the UN Convention on Biodiversity. The strategy clearly states the chief direct cause of degradation of the country’s rangelands and forests is the fast increasing domestic livestock population.
For instance, between year 1945 and 1986, the number of cattle almost doubled. On The other hand, the number of buffaloes, sheep and goats tripled. The number of livestock continues to rise at a rate of two per cent per year, according to official reports of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock. (Minfal).
The reports say that much of this increase of the livestock has been fed by the production of fodder within irrigated areas, continuous over-grazing has decreased forage production in the country’s rangelands to one-third of the potential forage output (a loss of almost 50 million tons per year), and in some areas to as low as 15 per cent of the potential forage production.
Given the worrying situation of our country’s rapidly diminishing forests, the international environmental day provides an invaluable opportunity for all stakeholders, government and civil society, public and private, to join hands for the conservation and protection of Pakistan’s forests.
Conservationists have called for sustainable management and protection of the country’s forest resources to be the top priority of the government. “Because, the forests provide shelter to people and habitat to biodiversity; are a source of food, medicine and clean water. Besides, they also play a important role in maintaining a stable climate and environment. However, all of these elements together reinforce the message that forests are inevitable to the safe and sound survival and well-being of people everywhere, according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Environmentalists have proposed several measures at government level are to achieve this. Among these proposed steps are awareness campaign and the celebration of significant international days in collaboration with media, restoration of vanished forests, restoration of forests by planting more trees (preferably indigenous species) revision of the Forest Acts and their promulgation in letter and spirit.
There are other conservationists who say that forest-related institutions must work for raising awareness amongst the masses and make a viable policy for conservation of forests, particularly through stern initiatives by the respective departments against the timber mafia who are fast eating away our precious forest resources.
According to Millennium Development Goal (MDG) report 2010, Pakistan intends to increase the forest cover area up to 6.0 per cent by 2015. But, it is not possible without unfailing, dedicated efforts and huge investment.
Achieving MGD target the 6 per cent forest cover is a daunting task and entirely depends on the availability of adequate financial resources, political will and unwavering fast track coordinated efforts by all the relevant departments. Solution to rising deforestation in our country lies in finding out ways to save these natural resources.
Independent forest conservationists have proposed several solutions, which, if applied, can help check, stablize and roll back deforestation. Among the key proposed solutions are: developing alternatives to timber and wood products such as kenaf, hemp and paper substitutes, promotion of alternative energy (biogas, solar energy) and introduction of alternative means of livelihood.
There is also need to check illegal tree cutting at all levels and relevant laws be revised to meet the needs of changing times and enforced in letter and spirit. Those violating the laws should be given exemplary punishments.