On 4 August, at Saggian Lahore, Premier Imran Khan inaugurated Miyawaki Urban Forest dubbed as ‘Asia’s largest’; 160,000 saplings spreading over 100 kanals. In light of the prevailing Climate emergency, the Clean and Green Pakistan movement was inaugurated by the Prime minister on attaining office. To expedite the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Movement and monsoon tree plantation, a 7-day plantation drive was launched from 12-18 July in all districts of the Rawalpindi division.
The goal was to transform public-and-private barren lands into forests via community engagement, target-setting and sapling distribution to farmers at Rs2/seed. Pakistan must preserve, rejuvenate and restore its inbuilt heritage via such green initiatives, said Environmentalist Imrana Tiwana.
An Inauspicious future of forestry
However, the current scenario portrays a rather ominous picture for the future of forestry. In Pakistan, merely 5.2% of the area occupies forest, in contrast to, the required 25% which has transpired into a ‘green emergency’.
The case study of Pakistan depicts multifarious causes of deforestation. Natural causes include forest fires, arid climate, floods and fragile watersheds. Nevertheless, as evidence shows, major causes are anthropogenic. According to Islamabad Wildfire Management Board, the regular fires on Margalla Hills aren’t caused naturally; but are rather induced by people’s irresponsible behavior.
According to FAO, agriculture causes around 80% of deforestation- which holds even more substance due to the growing demand for food in the wake of a burgeoning population. The livestock sector is problematic as overgrazing renders land devoid of vegetation. Moreover, a shift towards corporate farming has increased tree logging manifold.
Pakistan’s industries: brick, tobacco, construction, furniture and sports, are all users of wood. Particularly, a network of roads under the National Highway Authority has cleared huge tracts of forests. Research in Basho valley of Western Himalayas illustrates that the construction of link roads in 1968 merely reduced 50% tree cover. Here, mismanagement and illegal commercial harvesting endorsed by the Forest Department of Pakistan (FD) have been the main causes of deforestation, as per the journal Global Environmental Change.
FD gets into action
The FD has overlooked deep socioeconomic factors and merely focused on wealth generation. The inability to ameliorate rampant poverty and provide jobs has led to the stripping of trees as means to sustain a living;e.g., in NWFP hills, natives either sell the wood to metropolises or use wood as an energy-generation alternative to gas and electricity.
The ban imposed by the government on husking trees has not halted the timber mafia from illicit activities- such as smuggling wood and providing credit to the rich because of political interference, theft, corruption and complacency of the government to hold the culprits accountable.
Hence, FD has demonstrated incompetency due to structural faults. Firstly, it lacks a legal wing, central monitoring mechanism, regulated inter-provincial trade of timber and consistent standards to monitor and assess forest carbon. Secondly, forest officers lack quasi-judicial powers to lodge complaints against influential regarding illegal forest land-allotment and are devoid of legal provisions such as service weapons and government vehicles.
Thirdly, each 1000-acre block of land is monitored by only 3-4 guards which are inadequate to stop the wealthy and mafia from illegal logging. Moreover, Provincial Forest sectors face challenges pertaining to land utility, irrigation water, interdepartmental disputes, natural disasters, poor governance and policing.
To successfully shift from green emergency to green revolution, it is imperative to recognize the distinctiveness of the sector of forests. The need of the hour is for the policy to facilitate public/private investments, Payment for Environmental Services and sustainable forest practices.
All stakeholders shall ensure implementation of international obligations- REDD+ in accordance with the UNFCCC and actively pursue funding from World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and UN-REDD. Goal 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) shall be pursued by tapping local resources and international funding from GEF, Green Climate Fund, etc.
Government must take actions
Consequently, the Government of Pakistan must support all Provinces to synchronize capacity-building of workers, effective planning and management of forests and wildlife departments. For this purpose, the incumbent government must upgrade FD to ensure effective policy-making and implementation of laws pertaining to afforestation, tree preservation and prevention of biodiversity loss.
Capable and willing political leaders should run this sector; for this purpose, the recruitment of forest officers must be strictly on merit. Additional legal wings and forest courts must be created to effectively conduct surveys and law-making. Importantly, technical infrastructure must be updated to enhance management.
Governments must primarily focus on empowering the citizens. It is an unspoken fact that humans are liable to take action if they are fully informed. Hence, educational courses, think tanks and advocacy groups must deliberate on policy issues to avoid ‘groupthink’ and government nonaccountability. Women’s inclusion in policymaking would mitigate gender discrimination.
Such initiatives would enhance our country’s FD reputation and attract foreign and domestic investments; both of which are critical to reinstate the forest ecosystem before it becomes irrecoverable. In the most extreme scenarios, eccentrics urge to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle to save mother nature, for instance, adopting veganism (which would ultimately reduce livestock farming), recycling, walking instead of using vehicles and curtailing technology (reducing mining).
The writer has completed her BSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of London and undergone a traineeship under the prestigious National Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, South Asian Strategic Stability Institute etc. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.