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Tuesday October 04, 2022

Swat loses forest over 14,000 acres in three weeks

By News Desk
June 15, 2022

SWAT:The Swat Valley attracts millions of tourists every year because of its snow-capped peaks, glistening blue lakes, lush green plateaus and thick forests.

Known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan” for its matching breathtaking scenery, the valley remained the favorite site visited by nearly 2 million people last year.Nevertheless, it has lately been in the headlines for massive wildfires that have burned down over 14,000 acres of forest cover during the last three weeks.

Aside from dry weather conditions, many of the fires were set intentionally by the locals in order to benefit from a centuries-old law that permits them to share the ownership of forests with the government.“Shamilat” or the law of joint property, which was introduced by the powerful Yusufzai tribe when they captured the Swat Valley in the 16th century, allows the local communities to share the ownership of forests with the government.

In line with the law, they can harvest the empty swaths of forests and use pastures for grazing their livestock in their respective areas. However, they cannot chop down the trees except for the branches or decayed ones for firewood.

The law had also been adopted by Pakistan with some amendments in 1969. “We have seen an increasing trend of intentional wildfires to get more lands for agriculture,” said Latif-ur-Rahman, a spokesman for the Forest Department of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in which Swat is located

Mohammad Nafees, who heads the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Peshawar, said according to the original Shamilat tradition, said Nafees, rivers, mountains, streams and forests were the joint properties of a tribe.

But after the 1969 incorporation, the Pakistani government made some changes, declaring the forest trees state property, while the locals were given the right to harvest forest lands and get tree branches for domestic use.

Another unwritten law, he went on to say, allows a farmer whose land touches a mountainous forest to clear the adjoining forest swath and incorporate that into his piece of land. Swat boasted a robust 30% forest cover at the time of independence in 1947 which has gradually been reduced to less than 15%, he said. “Currently, only far-flung and tall mountains are left with thick forest cover.

Currently, 70% of the forests in Swat fall under the Shamilat law, whereas the remaining 30% are either in the state’s control or privately owned.The latest Forest Department report says that over 210 wildfires have been reported in Swat, Shangla and Buner districts, of which 55 were started intentionally by the local people.

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