Plant a tree, now

As the world braces itself for rising temperatures and choking pollution levels, it is time we planted more trees

Plant a tree, now


t has been rightly said that “the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago and the next best time is now.” In our case, the problem is that our eagerness and willingness to plant a tree is mostly limited to the monsoon season. As soon as the weather changes, we turn to the mundane routine of life, completely unmindful of the fact that like a child a young sapling needs care and attention.

This year, while we pull up our socks to start the yearly tree planting exercise in the coming monsoon weeks, we are shocked by the news of wildfires in several mountainous areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, destroying precious flora and fauna over the last couple of weeks. Was it mere accident or planned arson, only time might tell.

A few days ago, rescue officials said they had intensified their efforts in support of disaster management to put out wildfires in the forests of the Alpuri and Martung tehsils in KP’s Shangla district. What if the fires were started deliberately? According to news reports, over 200 wildfires damaged forests and pastures over an area of 14,430 acres in various districts of KP between May 23 and June 9.

The fires that also cost some precious human lives, remind us that we need more urban forests and a bigger forest cover. Why is it important for us to plant trees? We are the fifth most populous country in the world. More than 24 percent of Pakistanis, according to a conservative estimate, live in poverty. Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries affected by the changing climate.

Simply put, trees provide us oxygen, improve air quality, work for climate change mitigation, conserve water, preserve soil and support wildlife. During the process of photosynthesis, trees take in carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we need to breathe.

According to experts, leaves and branches on trees absorb and deflect noise, too. They say that refraction of sound waves occurs when sound passes through vegetative barriers. According to a website called Trees For Energy Conservation, vegetation “generates masking sounds, as leaves rustle, branches sway and stems creak”.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Pakistan “has 4.2 million hectares of forest and planted trees, which is 4.8 percent of its land area. Forty percent of the forest area comprises coniferous and scrub forest in the northern hills and mountains. The balance includes irrigated plantations, riverine forests along major rivers in the Indus plains, mangrove forests of the Indus delta and trees planted on farmlands.”

conservation efforts will not save Pakistan’s shrinking forests unless the government deals with the timber mafia sternly. The loggers allegedly cut trees from public forests at night and sell the timber illegally.

Here comes some eye-opening information, “With only 0.05 ha of forest per capita against a world average of 1.0 ha, Pakistan is forest-poor. The high population growth rate (2.61 percent) is pushing the figure further down. At present, it is not possible to expand public forest area at a high enough rate to keep up with demand for forest products. However, farmers are encouraged to establish plantations on farmlands and wastelands to help ameliorate the situation.”

“What more do we need to do after we plant hundreds and thousands of trees every year during our tree plantation drives?” one may ask. At best, our efforts to plant trees are not sufficient or result-oriented. Have we ever looked back at the trees we planted, say, a month ago? Have we ever cared who watered them or saved them from extreme weather?

For instance, the KP government of the PTI claimed credit for planting a billion trees under its Billion Tree Tsunami initiative. But was there a follow up? Is data available on how many of the trees have survived or how many have died or been affected by a disease? Do we know which trees were planted? Who was responsible for their care?

Then there is the threat from the timber mafia who take away the hard work and investment of years in a matter of a few minutes, in some cases with the connivance of the government servants charged with their protection. Environmentalists warn that any conservation efforts will not save Pakistan’s shrinking forests unless the government deals with the timber mafia sternly. The loggers allegedly cut trees from public forests at night and sell them illegally. Thousands of hectares of forests are reportedly cut annually. In the past the country has had one of the highest deforestation rates in Asia.

We also need to increase our efforts to protect the mangroves cover. In a World Bank blog titled, Pakistan’s Coastal Ecosystem and Opportunities to Tackle Climate Change published this month, Christophe Crepin, Rahat Jabeen and Sachiko Kondo write: “To tackle climate change and protect the planet, protecting coastal ecosystems and blue carbon solutions will be critical. Blue carbon is carbon captured by the ocean and coastal ecosystems, and normally covers mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass, which play an important role in minimising coastal erosion and sea level rising, combating the global climate crisis…”

The authors also say that “mangrove forests of Pakistan have the potential to store approximately 20 million tonnes of organic carbon. They also have the potential to remove an additional 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emission by 2050…”

And can we ignore the joy of looking at a fresh leaf that has sprouted recently?

The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at athernaqvi@gmail.comEnvironmentalists warn that any

Plant a tree, now