Deforestation in Gilgit-Baltistan; a green annihilation or astorm in a teacup?

By Rizwan Karim                             

According to WWF (World wide Fund for Nature) definition, deforestation is an induced process whereby natural forests are cleared through logging and/or burning, either to use the timber or to replace the area for alternative uses. The alternative uses have been divided into two categories viz, one is conversion of forests into agricultural lands, commercial areas, roads and other infrastructure; second is degradation of forests by natural events, illegal and unsustainable harvesting and collection of timber and fuel wood. This condition has generated an intensified upsetting of climate attributes in particular for temperature and precipitation, bringing about severe disturbances in form of floods, landslides, GLOF’s, storms etc.

In the very times, a thriving nation is weighed by its forest reserves/ resources. Many countries in this context are known for their forestry related economies and GDP earnings worldwide. We for instance can take example of Solomon Islands and Burundi, which have the highest forestry sector generated GDP share of 14.13 % and 9.04% respectively in 2011.

Many of us probably have been brain fed in graduate schooling that Pakistan is a forest resource deficient country with discrediting figures of forest cover (even not a single figure fluctuating above 7 %). It hereby becomes an onus for heart-rendered masses to bring forth the definite situation forth rather than declaring it an OK. According to Forestry Statistics of Pakistan 2010, nearly 5.36 % of its total land mass is covered by forests of its total land with 15.7(GNP) % 0.2 (GDP) share on average per annum. Likewise, by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) statistics for 2009, the forest cover in Pakistan is hardly touching figures of 6 %, with 2 % natural forest, whereas 4% of the country’s land mass is covered by plantations, planted in gardens, cities, along rivers, canals, roadsides and agricultural lands.

The Federally administrated area of Gilgit-Baltistan encompasses an area of 70, 40000 hectares, with diverse topo-geography mostly covered by mountains and water sinks and sources (lakes, glaciers and rivers) and irrigated marginal lands. Forest cover in Gilgit-Baltistan in a rough estimate is 950000 hectares (13.4 %) of its total area with province wise national forest cover share of estimated 9 %. These forests are under decline and deterioration with the passage of time, due to poor management, less research and in particular due to anthropogenic disturbances, with the primary doings of deforestation and illegal poaching of associated resources.

Aggravation of deforestation on global scale can be imagined by the figures that nearly 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year, the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute, according to WWF. According to FAO statistics deforestation rate in Pakistan is 0.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent annually, highest in the world, accounting a 4-6 % decline in wood biomass per annum, that has reduced the forest cover of the country from 18 percent to only 2.5 percent, thus increasing several risks including landslides, flash floods and threatening wildlife habitat and glaciers. The deforestation dilemma aftermath has prompted climate changes, by bringing Pakistan in ranking to 12th number among those nations that are negatively affected by global climate change worldwide. According to sources, on a rough estimate, the Gilgit- Baltistan region stomachs deforestation rate of about 8000 ha per annum, placing G-B region the second area severely being deforested province after KPK.

The delimah of deforestation is on the advancement currently with reassurance of different go-betweens involved like timber mafia, political and government characters, social dynamics and many more. The role of such individual elements is solidified with cooperation between these go-betweens, thus making delimah more throbbing. The government body in developed countries is sought as the responsible authority in normalization or reduction of any dilemma; natural or induced, while in ours case, sincerity of governments about Pakistan’s natural resources protection in general and deforestation in particular can be judged from the former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s mirthful act of benevolence on March 15, 2013, a day before the end of his government’s tenure, he allowed transportation of timber (legally cut but illegally cut timber too) from the Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan to Punjab and other parts of country without any huddle with the local government and rebuffing the needs of local population. This act of removal of ban on movement of timber, which was in effect since the 1993, resulted in stern deforestation by the timber mafia, resulting in more temperature and precipitation imbalance bringing severe environmental vulnerabilities like floods, landslides, siltation of main water reservoirs, retreating of glaciers etc.

The intensity of situation can be further revealed by the facts published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2013 article; referencing Mr. Muhammad Khan Qureshi, an anti-deforestation activist in District Diamer reveals “Timber smugglers only pay around Rs25 per cubic foot to the local forest owners and then go and sell the same timber for anywhere between Rs2, 000 to Rs3, 000 per cubic foot. The smugglers connive with the local forest guards to register the illegal timber in official records”. He further revealed that due to March 15th   2013 havoc act of democratic government steered transportation of nearly 1.6 million cubic feet illegally harvested timber out of G-B with imposition of minimal charges on volume basis for highly economic timber species. The charges vary from Rs 570 per cubic foot for fir trees to Rs 700 per cubic foot for deodar (Diar) trees. However the minimal dues set for taking timber out of GB aren’t be receivable due an another grievous fact that the forest guards are already in the pockets of influential timber smugglers in G-B and down, which would make it difficult to monitor timber leaving G-B. Respective governments seem to have utterly surrendered to the timber mafia that is primarily responsible for inciting conditions resulting in an obvious increase in occurrence of natural disasters like floods, cold spells, landslides, GLOFs and drought. Hereby the facts and new wits “in” are quite enough to show the real looks against the self-crafted images of development enthusiasts.

While the green massacre was being carried out with pace, in the meantime, general population of G-B was throbbing out of sufferings given by the events like the devastating floods of 2010, Attabad and Hussainabad landslide (Central Hunza) and GLOFs at Passu, Shimshal and Ghulkin village in upper Hunza; with a consideration that all the above events are impacts of imbalance in climate over years mainly abetted by deforestation. The worst scenario is yet to come, as temperatures in the adjacent areas of Karakorum ranges is increasing by 0.5 0C per decade, thus making the region more susceptible to chances of catastrophes. This climate imbalance will disturb the water supply and quantity in rivers and reservoirs due to acute shortage and rapid melting of glaciers, thus severely effecting agriculture sector, water dependent industries and drinking water systems, the most with shocking results. Moreover, climate change will intensely influence species distribution and, thus, misbalancing the structure and function of ecosystems.

Therefore, before the situation gets worse, it is imperative for every responsible state actors; provincial and federal government, responsible public and private organizations and community representatives to bend over backwards for eliminating the outbreaks of deforestation, by sustainable utilization, conserving and protecting the natural resources for the next generations.

The contributor is a volunteer at WWF-Gilgit. Sources from the article have been removed for brevity. Complete article (with sources) can be downloaded at this link: Deforestation in Gilgit

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