Protecting forests and ensuring public safety in times of disaster should be a priority
The flames that devoured a vast tract of the pine forest in the Koh-i-Sulaiman range in Sherani were still fresh in the memories of the survivors when we reached Sur Lakki village, a few kilometres from the epicentre of the blaze.
Accompanied by Prof Abdul Ghaffar Sherani, I visited the camp set up by the volunteers of the Ashar Movement (a social youth movement for the safety of forests and wildlife). Perched on a stone, Ghulam Sarwar, a 40-year-old who had miraculously escaped unhurt in the devastating fire, sat tired and saddened by the episode. “An impenetrable wave of flames besieged us as I and four other villagers entered the pine forest,” he says. Sarwar continues, “I barely escaped with some burns. One of us burnt to death; the others suffered critical injuries.”
“I don’t have a government job or another source of livelihood. I only had a tract of land covered by pine nut trees that were reduced to ashes,” he says.
Fateh Mohammad Sherani, a seventy-year-old inhabitant of Sur Lakki, and eyewitness to the fury of the blaze in Sulaiman hills, has appealed to the authorities to take prompt measures in the future.
The blaze that engulfed the pine nut forest on May 8, is believed to have spread over 26,000 acres, destroying more than 4,000 acres of tree cover and claiming three lives.
The tragedy might have been avoided had the the concerned authorities, ensured a prompt response. By the time the firefighters, alerted by images and videos of the fire shared on social media, arrived at the site the fire had spread and grown into a formidable blaze.
Talking to a local channel, Atlas Khan Sherani, a writer from Drazana, said, “the first fire broke out on May 8 at Dabara site in Mughal Kot area. It later extended to Zamri area of Musakhel district and then to Tor Ghar. The second fire, the one that went out of control, was first noticed at Sharghalai Hill on May 17.” Regretting the irreparable damage, Sherani said, “on one hand, we have been deprived of a massive tract of forests-cover, on the other, we have lost many wildlife species including the Sulaimani Markhor, black bears, deer and lions.”
The blaze that engulfed the pine forest on May 8, is believed to have spread over 26,000 acres. It destroyed more than 4,000 acres of treecover and claimed three lives.
Dosteen Jamaldini, the Forests and Wildlife Department secretary, says that a lightning strike had started the forest fire. However, district forest officer Atique Rehman accuses local people of arson motivated by tribal rivalry.
Yahya Musakhail, a coordinator for Balochistan’s pine nut projects who visited the forest, estimates that a third of the area has been affected.
Although the concerned authorities reached the site and Federal Minister for Housing, Maulan Abdul Wasay, Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo, the corps commander and the chief secretary did an aerial inspection on Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s direction, people are dissatisfied with the government’s performance. Some of them say, “the tragedy could have been avoided if the relevant authorities had ensured a prompt response.”
Ali Sherani, a social activist and writer, says “we had to seek the corps commander’s help. He provided three firefighting helicopters. Even those were inadequate.”
Salmeen Khpalwak, an energetic contributor to forestation in Balochistan and founder of the Ashar Movement, says 30 to 35 square kilometres of forest was reduced to ashes in the blaze.” To attract government attention to the burning forest, Salmeen held a press conference in Islamabad and wrote a letter to the United Nations.
A firefighting aircraft provided by Iran following a request by the federal government joined the effort on May 24.
The Sulaiman range is known for its lush green natural beauty. A Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) survey says that the 64,247 acres of forest produce around 750 tonnes of pine nuts annually. The forest has been recognised as endangered. Trees are being cut for fuel.
Situated about 11,000 feet above sea level, the highest peak in the range is Takht-i-Sulaiman. Many fables surround the beautiful landscape. The site can be turned into a tourist attraction.
While the entire world faces the wrath of climate change, attitudes towards deforestation in Pakistan remain mostly irresponsible. Forestation and reforestation come with several tangible and some intangible benefits for the environment. Lack of awareness and respect for these natural resources is the leading cause of rampant destruction of forests.
Pakistan ranks amongst the ten most affected nations by climate change. The long-term Global Climate Risk Index for 2020 declared Pakistan one of the five most affected countries. The report indicated that Pakistan had suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion and lost at least 9,989 lives since 1999 in climate-related disasters.
The writer is a professor at degree college Zhob and a columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com