December 02, 2016Print : Opinion
According to a recent report by the United Nations Development Program, Pakistan has 5.36 percent forest cover of its total land mass. This is the lowest in the region. The per capita forest area in Pakistan is merely 0.033 hectare compared with the world average of one hectare.
More than half of the total existing coniferous forest area of Pakistan lies in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to a 2010 WWF-Pakistan report, among the top ten forested districts seven are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The top three among them are in the Malakand division. The aforementioned report places district Shangla first with 86 percent forest cover, Upper Dir second with 58 percent forest cover whereas Swat stands third with 46 percent forest cover of its total land mass.
The other districts among the top ten are Batagram, Kohistan, Buner and Mansehra in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, district Muzzafarabad in Azad Kashmir, district Baltistan in Gilgit-Baltistan and district Ziarat in Balochistan. The common features, besides forests, in all these forested districts are their rough winter and abundant water.
There is a high level of consumption of fuelwood in the winter in all these districts. In areas beyond Madyan in Swat, and in the areas beyond Sharingal in Upper Dir the local people greatly depend upon the forests for fuel wood. In Kalam and Utror, where the winter goes on for six months, each household needs more than 30 tons of fuelwood for the winter season. The situation is the same in the villages of Thal, Lamuti and Kumrat et al in Upper Dir district.
The people usually cut down the finest deodar trees for firewood as the deodar wood burns well and heat instantly.
One resident of Balakot told me that some years ago the local people in his village counted 600 trees felled for fuelwood. He further elaborated that after that count the local people banned the cutting down of trees for fuelwood. However, that could not be strictly imposed since the people had no alternative source of heating their homes in the winter.
The fuelwood in these areas has, on the one hand, depleted the precious forests at an alarming speed while on the other hand it has adversely affected the health of the local people, particularly of women, children and the elderly. Since these people stay inside the house day and night, they are more prone to many diseases of eye, nose, throat and lungs because of the carbon-filled smoke. A larger number of children and elderly men and women die in the winter. Asthma increases among the women and children’s eyesight is weaker in these areas.
A couple of years ago, the incumbent government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa launched an ambitious project of afforestation under the name of the Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project. The project is still going on. Under it the government has to plant and protect a billion trees in the province. It was stated that 550 million young seedlings would be protected under this project in addition to the plantation of 450 million new plants.
This is indeed a positive measure, though undertaken in haste with no robust planning and required community ownership. It seems the government has not considered other measures of afforestation and protection of the existing forests. Although the forest department officials do their best to check timber smuggling,t the government does not think of alternative measures.
One such measure is the production of clean energy from the water resources that the forest areas have in abundance and distribute it among the local population either free or at very cheap rates so that the local population can use it to heat their homes in the winter. This will reduce the burgeoning pressure of fuelwood on forests. The local people, particularly women, children and the elderly, will have clean and warm homes. This measure would contribute to the health and education sectors as well.
We are told that in Pakistan the existing energy policies do not allow provision of free or cheaper electricity to communities where hydro-electricity is produced. A policy is not holy scripture. We can amend these policies and provide forest communities free or cheap electricity so as to protect forests and make the lives of the locals easy.
There are a number of hydroelectric projects underway in these areas. In Bahrain (Swat), the government has almost completed the 36MW Daral Khwar Hydropower Project. In Kalam, the chief minister is going to inaugurate the 84MW hydro project soon. Similarly, in Kohistan the 17MW Ronalia project is complete. In Chitral, the 108MW Golen Gol Hydrpower Project is under construction.
The government needs to provide free or subsidised electricity from these projects to the areas and districts where these projects are based. If the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is serious about deforestation, it needs to take sustainable measures by providing alternative cheaper and cleaner sources of energy. That is how we can curb the menace of deforestation and save Pakistan from disasters in the form of floods and urbanisation.
The writer heads an independent
organisation dealing with education and development in Swat.
Email: [email protected]