Forests are some of the most beautiful, magical places on Earth. There’s something about the untouched beauty deep within their roots that makes them feel like a glimpse into another world. They benefit mankind by purifying climate, providing shelter and livelihood to people and wildlife. Sadly, deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates for which forest conservation initiatives should be planned and strictly executed. Forest conservation is defined as the management of forests according to the principles of sustainable development. A key concern with forest conservation is the prevention of deforestation. It also keeps into consideration the maintenance of forested areas that could ultimately benefit the livelihood and environment of mankind.
Forests in Pakistan, besides being tourist attraction, have long been the source of fuel, wood and various production materials. Pakistan’s forests offer food and shelter for creatures other than humans as well; you can find some of Pakistan’s most exotic species here, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects.
Most of Pakistan’s forests are located in the regions of Himalayan ranges, Gilgit-Baltistan, Changa Manga, Nathiagali, coastal zones of Sindh and Balochistan, etc. These sum up less than 4.8% of the country’s total land. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) declared Pakistan to be a ‘forest poor country’, and also mentioned that the figures of forestation in Pakistan show a very dismal picture.
The country’s forest cover is disappearing at a catastrophic rate as a result of unlawful exploitation and poor legal execution for the protection of forests. The risk of landslides, slope destabilization, floods, increased surface runoff, and soil erosion is rising as a result of deforestation. Increased urbanization and altered land use over the past few decades have led to a sharp increase in deforestation, which has distorted global climate patterns and increased the frequency of catastrophic hydro-meteorological events. Besides this, deforestation raises surface temperatures, causes excessive carbon dioxide emissions, degrades soil, and increases surface runoff, all of which can lead to flash floods.
Due to the exploitation of forests after the earthquake in 2005, there was an increased risk of landslides and debris flows. Scientists referred to the recent record-breaking monsoon rainfall of 2022 a result of climate change, which is, among other factors, inextricably linked to rapid deforestation in the country. Deforestation once more made the situation worse during the terrible occurrence. Increased surface runoff is caused by soil erosion and deforestation. Deforestation is an ongoing problem and relevant concerns should be alleviated in order to save thousands of hectares of forest land throughout the country. Reasons include need for more agricultural land to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population as well as land to house this population, illegal logging, overuse of wood for fuel and furniture, etc. All of these directly contribute to deforestation, extinction of plant and animal species, climate change, soil erosion and endangering the natural ecosystem.
According to WWF, as far as deforestation rate is concerned, Pakistan stands second in the Asian region, after Afghanistan. It also emphasizes on deforestation to be one of the causes of the recent flash floods in several areas of Balochistan, the Kachho floods in Sindh, and the widespread rains in Karachi, Lahore, and other cities. Therefore, there is urgent need for collaborative efforts to lessen the harmful effects of climate change and develop practical responses to such dire circumstances. On this note, several possible initiatives can be taken not to just conserve recent forestation figures but also increase the percentage count of it. The economy, the soil, and other aspects of agriculture are all suffering from the effects of climate change. By 2030, Pakistan is expected to experience a water shortage. Therefore, the Government of Pakistan in collaboration with national and international organizations, initiated projects like the billion-tree tsunami project, Miyawaki urban forests, protected area management, bamboo production, etc. These projects have been based on investments in growing native plantations, purifying the ecosystem in order to prevent life threatening hazards that are being faced by the population and increasing biodiversity.
The government is already working on this. The “Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme, Phase-I” is a four-year (2019-2023) project by Government of Pakistan with the total cost of 125.1843 billion. The project is being implemented across Pakistan by the Ministry of Climate Change along with provincial and territorial forest and wildlife departments. This program was inaugurated on September 2, 2018 on ‘Plant for Pakistan Day’. Overall objectives of the program are to revive forests and wildlife resources in Pakistan, improve the overall conservation of the existing protected areas, encourage eco-tourism, community engagement and job creation through conservation. The plantation target of the program is to plant 3.29 billion trees and by June 2022 about 1.81 billion trees have been planted in different parts of Pakistan. Moreover, urban forestation is also being pursued on a priority basis. The largest urban Miyawaki forest project in the world was inaugurated by the Government of Pakistan in the world at Saggian, Lahore. The forest is one of 53 such sites in Lahore that are expected to work as carbon sinks. Islamabad’s city administration, in 2021 also launched the project to develop the biggest Miyawaki forest in Islamabad. The “biggest ever Miyawaki forest” in the city will be spread over 17 acres in the H-12 area of the city along the Srinagar Highway. Benefits of Miyawaki forests include lowering temperature, making soil nutritious, supporting local wildlife, combating smog and sequestration of carbon.
One such initiative WWF-Pakistan took the initiative during the year July 2019 to June 2020 of planting about 670,000 saplings of various native species, including mangroves and fruit trees, with the assistance of relevant government agencies, local communities, and students in the nation’s cities and rural areas. This number was expected to capture tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as well as increase the chances for local communities, notably women, to generate income while reducing soil erosion and improving the groundwater table.
Besides WWF-Pakistan, several other national and international organizations like International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), United Nation Environment Program (UNEP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (PAK-EPA), Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC), Pakistan Environmentalists Association (PEA), Himalayan Wildlife Foundation, etc., are working on programs in Pakistan concentrating on the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity. These programs have been notably focused on the country’s coastal and forested regions and overall climatic change.
At an individual level, everyone should try to create awareness, spread knowledge about the economical worth of forest ecosystem services, foster cross-sectoral awareness, assist with the planning and policy reforms, and contribute to building capacity in the country. HH
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