Where have the forests gone?

Since our childhood we have been told that of the total area of Pakistan, 4.5% is under forests, while for any country to have meaningful green cover, it should be around 25%. Well to start with we have been racing against an odd of some 21.5% for which every year millions and millions of saplings are planted by the forest department, but the area still remained 4.5% even after decades of forestation. This is worrisome as one wonders where these billions of planted saplings have gone. Didn’t even a smaller percentage took roots and turned into tree to add to the already scarce percentage of 4.5?

I got a clue to the mystery when I was assigned to carry out forestation on a given 200 acres in an area close to Lahore on the northern side of River Ravi. Before going to the area, I went to the Chief Conservative Punjab for a briefing and was told that the Forest Department had already planted a forest in the area some five years ago and I was only to plug the empty spaces, “if any.” Happy that my task was made simpler courtesy the Forest Department; I went to the area adjacent to a village called Bansi Nagar.

When I reached the area, to my utter horror I saw not even a semblance of forest. Instead the entire area was covered with thick thorny jungle muskets, which were so dense that it was difficult to drive my jeep through (rather I got two of tyres punctured). When I enquired from the local landlord, he showed his total ignorance about any such move by the Forest Department. So that is how got started.

My entire outfit was put on the task of clearing the jungle muskets with the help of dozers obtained from the Forest Department. It took us quite a while to remove the thick jungle of muskets and would daily encounter 5-10 feet long deadly snakes that my men used to kill. Finally we cleared the area, leveled it, make water channels, and dug holes for the saplings of eucalyptus. We also installed a dozen of water pumps for watering the saplings. It took us some three months to finally plant a forest, which still stands with trees reaching some 50-60 feet by now. And is that was not. While by and by we got to know the area, we were told that a sizeable area of the forest land was illegally occupied by an influential landlord and was using it for cultivation. It was with lot of effort that we got the said land vacated and brought inside our jurisdiction.

Having put in so much of effort myself, I find it heartbreaking when I see no change in the overall forest cover of Pakistan. Rather than increasing the area, just today I read a report which claims that the area under forestation has in fact reduced to 2.5% (1,902,000 hectares) in 2010. The report continues to divulge that between 1990 and 2000, Pakistan lost an average of 41,100 hectares of forest per year. This amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.63%. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change increased by 24.4% to 2.02% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, Pakistan lost 24.7% of its forest cover, or around 625,000 hectares. Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, Pakistan lost 14.7% of its forest and woodland habitat.

This horrific revelation means that our future generations would start from a 2.5% area under forestation as against 4.5% of our times. This is despite the fact that billions of rupees must have been squandered away in the process. Each year the president and the prime minister are seen planting saplings to mark the beginning of the tree plantation drive (held twice a year) and the Forest Department dishes out the same quantity of saplings to God knows who by making a vow to increase the area under active forestation in Pakistan. But the ground realities are far from true than the tall claims of the Forest Department and the green cover is shrinking at a very fast pace.

 Tree plantation requires sincere and dedicated efforts and each sapling is to be cared to rear these into tall trees. But this has not been done and we are witnessing the worst disaster of our times. The recent flash flood are but one factor attributed to rapid pace of deforestation in our northern areas, specially Chitral and Swat, where people are mercilessly cutting trees for warming their houses and kitchens besides using it for furniture.

Unless we tackle the issue on war footings and strict monitoring of the affairs of the Forest Department is undertaken, I am afraid we may soon lose the remaining 2.5% forest cover as well, which will not shatter the already fragile economy of the country, but would also rob us the natural habitat of millions of bird species, some of which are already on the verge of extinction. The deforestation would also erode soil resulting into floods and burning of wood would add to more pollution and harm to environment.

Related Link/Resource Information:

Forestry in Pakistan: Deforestation (Museum of Learning)

PS: The post originally published in The Fire Within


Save Earth – at your end

Efforts are well underway all over the world to save earth from the green house effect. Everyone is talking and attending conferences – world leaders are making pledges to reduce the heat by capping the outflow of harmful gases. But by and large, the large segment of the society is unaware of their obligations in reducing the heat they are unnecessarily generating or adding substances that argument to piling up of the hazardous gases. So isn’t it time for us – the ordinary people to do small things at home, which can add up in a collective effort to be really meaningful at community, country and the world over.


Here are some “small steps’ that can turn into “one big leap” for the rest of the people, humanity and the future generations:
  • Waste less water everyday and drink TAP water instead of bottled water (which is being consumed in huge quantity these days) as the wasted away bottles add to pollution. When washing or taking a bath, try cold or lukewarm water rather than hot water, for which your geyser would burn longer, consuming more gas and emitting more heat into the environment.
  • Walk when you can instead of going short distance in your car. A research says that keeping one car off road two days a week can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,590 pounds per year. So for picking up a few grocery items, jog up to the nearest store (or even stroll down) – it will do good to your health too.
  • When going shopping, pick up those products with least packaging as packaging when wasted (and if not recyclable) would be harmful.
  • Use energy saver bulbs that last much longer than a standard bulb and use at least two-third less energy.
  • Make your homes more energy efficient by using solar geysers and lights rather than burning gas. Put your geyser thermostat at pilot or at Low so that the entire night geyser doesn’t run like a bull for no useful requirement when you are asleep.
  • Turn off lights when not required as heat emitted from the unwanted bulbs adds up to raise the temperature all over the world.
  • A few words about driving. Ensure your car tyres are inflated properly. Under inflated tyres decrease fuel economy by 3-5%, which means more pollution. Likewise drive at a constant 90-100 kmph (around 60mph) as any higher acceleration will consume extra fuel and extra burning, more heat release in the atmosphere.
  • And one last thing, use less sprays of all kinds, specially those that emit CFC (chlorofluorocarbon), for these are deadly in depleting the ozone layer. Next time you go shopping, beware of sprays made of CFC.

So you see, with such a small effort, we can actually make a lot of difference in reducing the temperature that will add to our efforts to save earth.

Blog Action Day 2010 – Water

Have you ever wondered that while you can buy bottled safe drinking water from the market, more than one billion people around the world cannot afford this luxury of clean drinking water? Join countless bloggers around the world to participate in the Blog Action Day to raise awareness about the clean and safe drinking water for those who cannot afford it or don’t have access to it. Remember access to clean water is not just a human rights issue – it is an environmental, animal welfare, and sustainability issue. Water is a global issue, and affects all of us.

Blog Action Day is an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. So be part of the fifth Blog action Day 2010 which is dedicated to the accessibility to clean drinking water. The theme was chosen by vote on Change.org’s blog, with Collis and Cyan Ta’eed as its co-creators.

Those who haven’t heard of the Blog Action Day, may I add for their information that it is all about grass root level activism, based on the philosophy that ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference. Join the cause and celebrate the day with your own post at your own blog, as I have.

Photo courtesy: Diets in Review.com