Protection of natural resources is not a job for some individual or an institution; it requires efforts by the entire society
“We understand that deforestation is harmful to the environment but there is no other way because we have access to no fuel other than wood,” says Akbar, a resident of Pasni who is taking wood from a forest. Many people in Balochistan use wood as fuel because there is no other fuel.
Climate change is a global issue. Its adverse impacts are being felt in most countries across the globe. According to Global Climate Risk Index, 2020, Pakistan is among the five countries that will be most significantly affected by climate change. In 2019, it had ranked 8th on the risk list.
Experts are of the opinion that coastal areas of Balochistan, from Jiwani to Gaddani, are at greater risk from climate change as compared to the rest of the province.
The restoration of natural environment in the coastal areas of Balochistan is a big challenge. These challenges include saving marine life, mitigating the impact of climate change and preventing extinction of native species.
According to a World Bank report, Pakistan ranks 113th out of 143 countries in the world in terms of forestation. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says Pakistan lost 43,000 hectares of forest land every year from 2000 to 2010. This is half the size of Islamabad and the highest rate of deforestation in South Asia.
The percentage of forest cover in the total land is disputed. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 2.2 percent of the land in Pakistan is covered by forests. The report says that a total 340,000 hectares has been planted. The report further states that between 1990 and 2010, Pakistan lost 42,000 hectares of forest annually, accounting for 1.66 percent of the area. Pakistan Forest Institute, however, estimates the forest cover to be 5.1 percent.
A survey conducted by the REDD Plus Programme in 2017, put the forest cover of Pakistan at 5.7 percent. According to the Balochistan Forest Department (2014-2015 Report), the total forest cover in Balochistan amounts to 1,127,339 hectares. This region has the least forest cover in Pakistan, making it more vulnerable to harsh climate change effects.
Research conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in collaboration with Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) generated a stock map of mangroves of Balochistan through satellite-derived information. According to this, the total area of mangrove forests along the coast of Balochistan is 4,058.36 hectares. Many governmental and non-governmental agencies and organisations are currently working to restore the natural resources and forest cover.
“The environment can be improved by declaring 10 percent of the country’s maritime area as a protected area. Currently, only about one percent of the area is protected,” says Shoaib Kayani.
Tahir Rasheed, the head of WWF for Sindh and Balochistan, says that 232,600 plants (avicennia, ceriops, rhizophora) have been planted from 2018 to 2019 under the mangrove plantation drives, accelerating the development of a management plan for a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) including Churna Island and Miani Hor.
Technical support has been provided to the government of Balochistan for the protection of the endangered marine wildlife species and building of artificial reefs to support biodiversity and fish stocks at Jiwani.
Yar Muhammad Dashti, the deputy conservator of Forest and Wildlife Department Gwadar, says that in the year 2020, the department planted 183,000 date palms in Shabi Hor Pishukan and Pasni. He says about 300,000 seeds were also sown. Besides, a nursery of 150,000 plants was also set up in Pasni. “The department has set a target of planting one million date palm trees in coastal areas of Gwadar,” he adds.
Dashti says that the Forest Department is planting date palm trees in the areas of Gwadar district considered naturally suitable for mangroves. According to him, in collaboration with the local community, he is rapidly growing forests in the coastal areas of Gwadar.
Amjad Rasheed, the chief executive officer of Tarraqi Foundation Balochistan, says Balochistan is the most affected province in terms of climate change. It also lies outside the Indus system. He says that his organisation has been working for the protection of environment, including emergency relief and disaster since 1994.
Rasheed says they have formed 30,000 community-based organisations and completed 6,000 projects to support a sustainable environment. In collaboration with the Forest and Wildlife Departments, his NGO has planted about one million palm trees and 4 million mangrove trees in various areas of Balochistan.
Shoaib Kayani, an assistant professor at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the Karachi University, says protection of natural resources and the environment is not a job for an individual or an institution. The entire society, the government and non-government organisations should be working together to this end. He says the centuries-old ways of protecting the environment must be strengthened and defended.
According to Kayani, declaring 10 percent of the country’s maritime area as protected and enforcing the restrictions can improve the environment. Currently, only about one percent of the country’s area is protected.
Balochistan Environment Protection Department Deputy Director Wali Khilji says they are monitoring all projects in Balochistan.
“Before approving any development project we ask for a complete environment protection plan. All activities that can harm the environment are to be avoided. We don’t allow such activities in areas that are declared protected. We will take legal action in case of a violation,” Wali adds.
The writer is a freelancer from Pasni, Balochistan