By Liaqat Karim
Have you ever had a by-road trip to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB)? If yes, I am sure you have seen the several cubic feet timber, laid on the sides of KKH in Diamer district. Every day tons of wood is smuggled to various parts of Pakistan from GB and new trees are cut to replace the smuggled wood In July 2014, I visited GB and saw dozens of trucks laden with timber coming towards south on KKH. Nobody knows who permitted this havoc. After the lifting of ban on cutting of trees in GB by Raja Pervez Ashraf, on March 15, 2013, more than 500 old trees were cut and several thousand cubic meter of wood was sold. The lifting of ban was reversed later, however the damage had been done.
Poverty of natives and corruption in the relevant institution has exacerbated the issue. People who have the authority to issue the permits have become millionaires by signing permits and allowing the massacre of the local flora. The ruthless deforestation in the area has caused a lot of issues on local as well as national level. The Flash floods have become more frequent causing loss of lives and property locally as well as nationally. GB government in collaboration with the natives shall take immediate steps to stop further deforestation. The culprits shall be held accountable who have misused their authorities either to decorate their lavish houses using this timber or to sign the permits for making money.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Pakistan lost 33.2 percent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010. Most of this deforestation was done in northern parts of Pakistan, including Diamer district of GB. Although, the issue was aggravated after the lifting of ban on transport of wood to other parts by Pakistan People Party (PPP) government in 2013, however, the corrupt leaders and government officials have been experts for finding loopholes to allow deforestation in the area. Instead of protecting these resources the government official in departments like department of forest, have been involved in promoting deforestation by issuing illicit permits for the transport of wood.
The impacts of denuding of these forests include soil erosion which is causing siltation in Tarbela dam, flash floods causing loss of lives and property, increase in flood water causing destruction in the Indus plain downstream and much more. Recent floods claimed more than 250 lives across Pakistan. These floods killed more than 8 people and damaged more than dozen houses in Diamer district, alone. Furthermore, the deforestation is casing loss of biodiversity in the area at an alarming rate. The endemic wild animals are either killed by the hunters or are forced to evacuate by destroying their natural habitat. Any increase in precipitation due to construction of dams in future may trigger serious landslides from the barren mountains of GB. Moreover, this deforestation may also alter the climate of the region causing extreme weather patterns in the area
Due to the good quality of wood, the demand of wood from this area always remains on the peak making it an easy way to make money. According to the people involved in this viscous business, the price of wood from the chopped trees is Rs200 per foot in GB, whereas it makes more than Rs4000 per foot in larger cities. It is obvious that, the natives are not getting enough, yet the native are the first victims of incidents like flash floods and environmental degradation. The locals should understand this issue and should play their role to stop this catastrophic activity in the region.
The limited resources of the natives, their dependency on the timber mafia and the corrupt system has played a malicious role in the massacre of these trees. Generally, government of Pakistan and specifically, government of GB should take serious steps to overcome these issues in the area. Natives shall be provided with other means of earning to stop their involvement in such activities, rather they shall be used to conserve the forests by proving incentives. Moreover, the mafia and the corrupt officers involved in the smuggling of timber should be brought to justice. Especially, the government officers who misused their power shall be identified through a judicial crackdown and serious action shall be taken against them. Unlike the past, a debate in the national assembly shall be made mandatory to lift any ban or to change any policy regarding the transport of wood from this part of the country. A single guy, who most probably may be a corrupt individual, should not decide the fate of the fragile environment of this area. The money earned from the cut trees shall be strictly used for afforestation in the area.
It is in the best interest of the natives and the people living downstream of GB to stop deforestation and encourage afforestation in the area. In order to avoid frequent landslides, flash floods, extreme weather patterns, and loss of biodiversity, we should raise our voice against the timber mafia of GB. Let us speak against deforestation in Diamer at every available forum and force the authorities to take serious steps to ensure security of the remaining trees on the mountains of GB.