Pakistan unlikely to fight climate change without boosting forest cover, warns climate change secretary Arif Ahmed Khan

By Saleem Shaikh 

ISLAMABAD, January 30: A target of 159 million tree plantation throughout the country has been set for the upcoming three-month spring season, which will kick off from February.

While chairing a high-level inter-ministerial and inter-provincial meeting here on Friday (January 29), the federal climate change secretary, Mr. Arif Ahmed Khan, finally approved the target after consultation with provincial forest departments and other federal ministries, departments including the Capital Development Authority, National Highway Authority, Pakistan Ordinance Factory, and Heavy Industry Texila.

Giving break-up of the spring tree plantation target, the Inspector General of Forest Pakistan (IGF-Pakistan) at the climate change ministry, Mr. Syed Mahmood Nasir, told the meeting that as per targets set by the provincial and federal governments as well as departments, the highest target of 123 million tree would be planted during the upcoming spring seasons by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa forest department throughout the province. During the season, Punjab will plant 18.09 million trees, Sindh 7.1 million trees, Baluchistan 1.5 million trees, Azad Jammu and Kashmir 1.3 million trees, Gilgit-Baltistan 1.1 million trees, FATA 4 million, Capital Development Authority 0.3 million, National Highway Authority 0.125 million, Ministry of Defence 700,000 trees, Heavy Industry Texila 5,000, Pakistan Ordinance Factory 15,000 Pakistan Tobacco Company 1.5 million and IUCN 250,000 trees.

The meeting also reviewed the last monsoon season tree plantation targets by the provincial forest departments and other provincial and federal departments.

The IGF Pakistan Syed Mahmood Nasir apprised the meeting that during the same meeting held on July 27, 2015, a target of 40.2 million trees plantation for the last monsoon season for the whole country was set. Of which, nearly 81 percent (32.5 million trees plantation) of the target have been achieved and survival of the trees planted during the last monsoon season is 72 percent.

Talking to Pamir Times, the climate change secretary Arif Ahmed Khan, emphasised that as predicted by the Pakitan Meteorological Department (PMD) the coming spring season will have good rains in the country. “Hence, it does provide an unprecedented opportunity to plant as many tree as possible all over the country for dealing with various environmental problems and mitigating climate change risks,” he said.

“All-out efforts should be taken to take full benefit of the three-month long wet spring season by planting tree on a large-scale. Because, wet spring season is expected to provide trillions of litter water for the seedling to grow fast and hold their grip on soil strongly,” the secretary told the meeting.

Pakistan cannot cope with climate risks, particularly floods and torrential rains, which have become increasingly frequent due to global warming, without increasing tree cover, he told Pamir Times.

“Forests hold back floodwater by nearly 72 hours and; hence, reduce intensity of the deluge water, lower chances of deaths and damages to roads, building infrastructures, bridges as well as standing crops from being washed away or wiped out,” he argued.

However, he urged the provincial forest departments and ministries to take necessary arrangements in a timely manner to achieve the spring season tree plantation target and nurture them as our own children.

The provincial forest department officials told the minister that special media campaigns have been hammered out to engage public, educational institutions, government departments, corporate and non-governmental sectors in the monsoon tree plantation drive and in this regard wide publicity campaigns will be initiated for raising awareness of the general public in tree plantation and its environmental benefits.

The climate change secretary underlined the need for conserving nutrient-rich soil and trees could play a vital role in this regard.

“Being a proven method to maintain the fertility of the soil by protecting the soil from erosion and nutrient loss, the soil conservation is important because soil is crucial for many aspects of the human life and non-living beings. For, it does provide food, filters air and water and helps to decompose biological waste into nutrients for new plant life,” he told the meeting.

The need for framing land use policies and their implementation at provincial level echoed at the meeting to discourage rampant conversion of forest and agriculture lands into other uses like for construction housing societies.

Assistant Inspector General of Forest Mr. Aurangzeb Ashraf Awan said that legislation in this regard was inevitable to save the existing forests and re-invigorate the country’s ailing forest sector.

“Failing to which would only aggravate the impacts of unfolding climate change-induced disasters,” he warned.

Meanwhile, the matter of the re-invigorating the ailing Pakistan Forest Institute (PFI) in Peshawar also came under discussion, which houses the country’s top forest scientists, researchers and experts.

The IGF Pakistan Syed Mahmood Nasir suggested the KPK forest secretary, Mr. Nazar Shah, to convene a meeting of all provincial forest department officials to discuss the ways and means of activating the PFI and the idea that if it could be made a national entity.

At present, the PFI is a provincial entity and is under control of the KPK government, he said.

He told the meeting that globally forests are considered highly valued sector for holding a great potential to fight climate change and its deleterious impacts, mainly floods, torrential rains and expanding desertification.

The IGF Pakistan cautioned that no efforts or programmes for boosting forests cover in the country would succeed if public and other stakeholders were not sensitized about the trillions of worth socio-economic and environmental benefits the forests provide.

Earlier, Secretary General, Pakistan Red Crescent, Dr. Rizwan Naseer, shared his experience of engaging youth volunteers’ force to sensitse general public about unprecedented importance of forests and its protection.

“We are expanding this volunteers programme all over the country to join federal and provincial government’s efforts to save country’s existing forests and bring new area under them,” Dr. Rizwan Naseer told the meeting.

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