By Syed Muhammad Abubakar
Forests play an important role in providing freshwater and livelihoods to local communities as well as sustaining wildlife. They are the green blanket that protects the environment and provides a habitat for different species of plants and animals.
Pakistan has a forest cover of 2.5 % and due to ineffective policies and mismanagement, the forests of Pakistan are fast decreasing. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) deforestation in Pakistan occurs at annual rate of 2.1 % per annum which is the highest in Asia due to which Pakistan is ranked at 110 in forest cover of the world.
However, the country has one of the largest semi-arid mangrove forests in the world which protects coastal communities from natural calamities such as storms, cyclones and floods. These forests also serve as a potential habitat for shrimp and marine life, and economically support fisher communities. Unfortunately the ecological importance of these mangrove forests has been ignored for long which has caused great loss. As a result of their deforestation 1,050 km of Pakistan’s coastline is vulnerable to climate change impacts such as increased cyclonic activity, storms, floods, droughts, food scarcity, reduced fish catch and increased temperatures etc.
World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) through its Indus for All Programme, in order to make coastal areas of Pakistan resilient to climate change, planted 7,500 ha of mangroves in the coastal areas of Sindh and an additional 550 ha as part of its project Building Capacity on Climate Change in Coastal Areas of Pakistan (CCAP). These plantations aim to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
However this is not enough! A collective effort is required by the government and all stakeholders to save the falling trees. Unfortunately increase in population, demand for fuelwood, encroachments of state forests, unscientific agricultural methods and lack of awareness are the main reasons for deforestation in Pakistan. If reforestation is not carried out, Pakistan will not be able to meet its international commitments under the Millennium Development Goals to increase its forest cover from 2.5% to 6% by 2015.
The timber mafia has also played a destructive role in the loss of forest land in the country as well as encroachers who mercilessly chop down thousands of hectares of trees, selling timber in different areas of Pakistan. This results in increased pressure on forests and wildlife becomes threatened. Species specific to Pakistan i.e. common leopard, lynx, markhor and many species of birds are endangered due to reduced habitat. Communities residing nearby depend on forests for their livelihoods and for their survival. At the current rate of deforestation Pakistan will consume this natural resource in a very short time.
It is observed that deforestation is creating havoc for local communities as it is fueling climate change. Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) have increased problems for local communities who are severely affected. Previously, forests helped reduce the impact of floods in the northern areas but due to their dramatic decrease the impact of floods have drastically increased, forcing communities to migrate to other areas in times of the monsoon season.
The impractical attitude of the government can be seen from the fact that a decade old ban on transportation of around 4 million cubic feet (cft) of legally and illegally cut wood from Diamer, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) was lifted by the previous government. This greatly benefitted the timber mafia and further fueled deforestation, the situation continued for four months until the ban was reinstated. Thousands of trees were chopped down which cost the government billions of rupees. Such acts increase the chances of silting in dams and soil erosion and make the area more vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Before harming forest one should know their ecological and economical value. Forests store carbon and help in reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. When forests are chopped down carbon dioxide and other hazardous gases are released which increase climate change impacts and global warming.
According to Ibrahim Khan, WWF-Pakistan, “Forests should be protected in order to achieve the financial benefits of REDD+ (Reducing Carbon Emissions from Deforestation and forest degradation). This global initiative will award financial benefits to those countries which protect forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. REDD+ is an initiative to conserve forests and not to harm them.” He further elaborated on the need to conserve forests and in return communities can get financial benefits, which will help the entire region.
According to the 2006 Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment Report, the annual cost of environmental degradation in Pakistan is estimated to be Rs.365 billion ($4.2 billion) and rangeland degradation and deforestation is estimated to be Rs.6 billion ($69 million). This highlights the need for concrete steps to be taken to control deforestation.
In a recent move, Pakistan was awarded $3.8 million by the Readiness Fund of Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) to combat climate change and tropical deforestation. This will help Pakistan in conserving forests and mitigating climate change through reductions in carbon emissions.
It is important to sensitize communities regarding the ecological value of forests and to make them realize that every tree has an economic value and cutting it can affect their livelihood. Forests are natural assets and should be protected at all costs as they constitute a significant portion of GDP, provide shelter, food, water and medicines. They should be valued and strict measures should be adopted to control illegal deforestation, curb forest land conversions, recover state forests from encroachers and introduce reforestation campaigns. If citizens join hands to protect their natural treasures from encroachers and government plan effective policies, forest cover in Pakistan can be increased and will lead to prosperity of the country.
Originally posted in WWF-Pakistan’s Blog on