Wed. Aug 21st, 2019

Utilization and Conservation of Forests of Gilgit-Baltistan, and Sustainable Development


Sheraz Ali

The mountainous areas are bestowed by nature with resources like Forests, Wildlife, Glaciers, Mines and Minerals to compensate the deprivation of its inhabitants and they have birth rights to consume them to support their life. Unlike the cities, towns and other well settled areas of county these areas have limited livelihood opportunities. Peoples of these areas are totally dependent on nature for their survival. The age-long relation of the nature and the communities has evolved into healthy relationship, both are supporting each other in their own ways. Any foreign intervened change in this pyramid without understanding the essence of their long-standing relationship will destruct the whole system. Now a day the wise and sustainable utilization of these resources have become a challenge after increased population and initiation of mega developmental projects in the region.

The ambitious Environmentalists, Conservationist and Governmental Departments are continually struggling to safeguard the nature from exploitation. No doubt they are doing this in good faith but many of the times these restrictions provoke the locals; and locals’ loss the sense of ownership due to overprotective measures initiated by governmental organizations, NGO and INGOs time and again. Resultantly, despite utilization of millions of rupees the desired results and targets have not been accomplished.  Sometime such protective measures started without the  support of concerned communities  results in “Na hamara na tumhara taharik” a movement announced unanimously by the people of Kohistan in 1992 and started cutting down the forests against the forced  scientific management of forest initiated by the then Forest Department of KPK and the locals pushed the Department on its knees to review its initiatives. The main reason of failure of this plan was exclusion of the locals from the process.

After devolution of Forest subject from federal to province following the 18th Amendment, provincial government of Gilgit-Baltistan is making policy and legislation to manage the forests of Gilgit-Baltistan.  If above mentioned mistakes are repeated while law making and forced to implement in Gilgit-Baltistan without prior approval and consensus of the concerned communities the results will be no different. The utilization and conservation is must be channelized based on the ground realities. As Gilgit-Baltistan is different economically, socially, geographically and culturally from other provinces of Pakistan. Replication of the laws, plans, and policies of other parts of country or world will not be helpful to coup the special issues faced by Gilgit-Baltistan.

According to united nations report on environment, Pakistan is 7th most vulnerable country to the climatic disasters and least contributor to the global carbon foot printing that It stands on the 135th position out of the 140 countries.  These figures indicate that Pakistan is least polluter in general and Gilgit-Baltistan in particular. As Gilgit-Baltistan has very low polluting sources and have a Healthy Natural Environment with a small population with optimal utilization of Ecological Services and spending a very humble lifestyle as compared to the national and Global lifestyle standards. Despite all of this It will be very unfortunate to surrender to the National and International pressure without fulfilling and safeguarding the Basic Human and Economic Rights of the local to utilize the Natural resources. Instead of crumbling to the demands of the National and International compressions; government must advocate the case of its peoples in federal and international level. As after Paris agreement developed nations are bound to facilitate the countries and communities with less environmental impacts and carbon resources. So provincial government should demand the federal and international organizations to provide funds for the economic wellbeing, alternative fuel and infrastructure development as agreed under Paris Agreement. while law and policy to fulfill the international commitments made by Pakistan to conserve the Carbon reserves present in the area following points must be consider so that these measures can be acceptable for locals and sustainable development can be possible in the region. and that locals can have influence and power on the sustainable utilization of Forests and other Resources.

Firstly, it is suggested that the centuries old prevailing customary laws about ownership and utilization of forests produce must be protected to strengthen and built the trust of locals and this will give the locals the sense of ownership and they will be diligent to protect the forests. Also, they have indigenous knowledge and better human resource. Department should implement its management plans through communities, this technique will be more economical and beneficial. Also, it is not humanly possible for a single department to safeguard such a scattered subject when the inhabitants are not supporting the cause.

Secondly, the royalties collected by the department from forest produce should spend back the funds in the relevant areas from where they are collected, to reduce the dependency of locals on forest. In this regard the globally acclaimed iconic program of trophy hunting program introduced by Wildlife Department Gilgit-Baltistan can be a guiding star. Also, measures should be made to produce environment friendly alternative sources of livelihood through promoting cattle herding, formations of organic villages and promotion of eco-tourism in these areas. As peripheral areas of alpine and sub-Alpine Zones are rich in pastures, fertile land and scenic views.  In this regard the help of Agriculture Department and Veterinary Department and Tourism Department can be instrumental and decisive. A collective effort of these three department can result into Economic revolution in the area.

Thirdly, as Gilgit-Baltistan is under developed area with harsh cold weather and  lacks alternative resources for construction and heating and inhabitants are totally dependent on Forest for fuel and timber so, there should be a legal mechanism of Annual Auction of Death fallen woods to meet the day to day needs of the local communities. Moreover, thanks to the better law and order situation of the country made possible by the continues struggles and sacrifices of law enforcement agencies and wise strategies of the government the tourists flow has increased many folds in recent years. The expected tourist figure is 10 lakhs in the upcoming season and according to Tourism Department, Gilgit-Baltistan have 4500 rooms estimated capacity only to accommodate the respected guests which is far below the required accommodation.  Also, we need infrastructure to accommodate the internally displaced peoples from Daimer-Basha Dam and the national and international workers of mega project like CPEC in the regions. Government policies and plans must be designed to target these issues for the larger betterment of the Region.

Fourthly, funds should be allocated for the capacity building of Forest Department Staffs and while offering job opportunities in Forest Department preference must be given to those candidates who belong to the areas where Forest cover is high as compared to low forest cover areas so that dependence of locals can be minimized on forest for their survival.

Lastly, if the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan address the above mentioned issue and pay heeds to the suggestions then she will be in the position of achieving the 17  SDGs Framework set by United Nation in general and   GOAL1: No Poverty, GOAL 2: Zero Hunger, GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being, GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality, and  GOAL 15: Life on Land, in Particular.

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