By Syed Shamsuddin
Admittedly, man’s expedient pursuits have overtime, ravaged the whole ecosystem endowed by nature. And the Gilgit-Baltistan scenario is just a microcosm of the environmental ravages being wrought by such pursuits while the global warming impact is yet another spectre dangling overhead. This is in addition to thousands of vehicles with improper tuning, plied in the region that emit carbon monoxide polluting the environment and meandering its way up the glaciers with pernicious effects catalyzing snow/glacier melting processes. These are all the factors which together, tend to wreak havoc on the environment.
There can be no denying the fact that no environmental campaign whatsoever, may succeed sans encouraging the local people and getting them well on the board, for the effective implementation of a program. There is therefore the need to be responsive to the legitimate needs of the respective communities so that they could be weaned towards and induced to pay their critical role in the matter of living in harmony with nature and drive home the significance of achieving the objective of conserving natural ecological processes and ecosystem diversity by taking recourse to use of renewable resources in a sustainable manner, both now an in longer term. It is a must that the potential issue is preliminarily addressed and followed by efficacious actions to reduce pollution, wasteful exploitation and of consumption of resources and energy.
In order to achieve the conservation of nature and ecological processes as environmentalists say, it becomes imperative to concentrate mainly on three priority biomes: forests, freshwater ecosystems and oceans and coasts. It is fitting to say that hectic engagements all along in the past, to address the issues have altogether yielded intangible result primarily because no effective mechanism was put in place to meet the needs of the respective communities. The world’s most prominent mountain ranges – the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas which surge, merge and converge, to form a stupendous landmass on the planet, extensive in area, unique in pattern and interesting in terms of its geology, morphology and biodiversity. Over the time, there has sadly been witnessed horrific environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity in these ranges which should be the cause of alarm to environmentalist, botanists and biologists.
There can be no denying the fact that Pakistan though far behind in terms of its having the required forest cover, is blessed with a biodiversity albeit the people have sadly been ignorant of the values of the biological component of their environment and hence have all along exhibited a brutal lack of kindness to it by taking resort to use them in an unwise and irrational manner.
On the Threshold of Apocalypse:
Viewed holistically, Gilgit-Baltistan crowns Pakistan in the strict environmental context and ipso facto, the environmental health of the country quite unexaggeratedly hinges squarely on and gets reckoned with the goings-on in terms of the fragile mountain ecosystems of these areas. This is fundamentally in seeing that the country’s precious water resources majorly lay embedded here. Any harm to the ecosystems in them and palpable changes in terms of the fragile environment may, thus metaphorically ail the entire nation to put it succinctly. A prudent prioritizing and strategizing therefore, has to remain on the anvil to combat the impact of global warming with a special focus on these areas, accordingly. This is despite the fact that there are specifically created institutions to take on the responsibility of tackling the tasks and employ every possible measure to combat the menace of deforestation but suite sadly, what comes out is a mere lip-service, mere ritual and the ceremonial as palliatives whereas the denudation of forests is going on unstoppably in various guises and under myriad ploys.
True, the persistent commitments of the present government regardinhs million tree tsunami could be grand project in seeing that tree plantation is a sine qua non for the salutary effect thes have in assuaging the environmental challenges across the country. It is said that maximal afforestation could become instrumental in 18% reduction in the pernicious effects of earth-warming hence matter in climate mitigation solutions while deforestation and forest degradation cause about 12-17% of global GHG emission. The significance of trees in the ecosystem is such that they purify the air, hosting the feathered and the furry while the damage caused by the deforestation as said before, is put at 17% of the global emissions.
Reducing deforestation, and giving a boost to afforestation and reforestation can provide up to 30% of cost-effective global mitigation potential. It is said that ‘between the end of the last Ice Age, and now – some 20,000 years – the Earth warmed by about (degree) Celsius , transforming nearly every type of ecosystem on the planet.’
If carbon emissions continue to grow, Earth could warm by that much in the next century or so.”
Admittedly, forests make a very vital source in the economic aspect of any region on which the respective populace largely depends in meeting its needs of fuelwood as well timber. Forests equally meet grazing needs while alongside being greatly instrumental in preventing soil erosion and exposure of land to flooding especially in the vulnerable mountainous areas. Flooding in the mountainous areas of Pakistan means faster silting of reservoirs in the downstream let alone other attendant losses. Therefore, unless a comprehensive plan at the national level to address the issues holistically to meet the legitimate needs of the respective communities whilst cracking down on timber mafias is the need of the hour.
These measures have to be in the form of unstinted subsidies to the respective communities to enable them to meet their fundamental needs as under:
- I sheets, and allied steel material for roofing houses
- In case of RCC building, provision of subsidized cement and (corrugated iron bars) sareya to be made available on subsidized rates
- Other inducements may include giving equal subsidy in the matter of providing LPG or else supply of cost-free electricity for domestic use
The above, if planned and implemented in letter and spirit, will help overcome the deforestation problem and tide over allied grave environmental issue to great extent. This mechanism alone will thwart the mischievous exploitation by the village committees who are currently given a cart blanch which is being abused grossly. It is complained that these committees often manipulate their mandate by using various ploys and eventually deforestation continues unabated.
Someone on the condition of anonymity, confided to this scribe that there remains unstoppably underway a horrific denudation of forests in upper Bagrote ,yet in another raiment. It is to be recalled that the Damai forest up Chirah in Farfoo witnessed a similar deforestation some five decades ago during the course of which the tall kail trees there was all razed to the ground. A native of Khaltaro on the condition of anonymity divulged that the thick forest cover there is being literally razed to the ground by the mafia thereby causing an irreparable harm right under the nose of the relevant authorities who have heretofore been silent spectators. These happenings present an apocalyptic scene in that it was preceded by identical scenes enacted in case of Kutwal and now, Barchi and Jutial where permits for cutting by the authorities are being ceaselessly issued. In consequence thereopf, it is not difficult for one to have a premonition of a disastrous situation lurking ahead which if allowed nonchalantly, would means negation of the right to life to the coming generations.
It has sadly been observed that another menace plaguing the Bagrote valley is strangely the decimation of Khama-Chira glaciers ostensibly because of its being lumped during summers. This ceaseless axing of the glacier continue for the last five decades during summers when unscrupulous elements embark of the spree which culminates in thousands of tons glacier thus lumped finding way into the market in Gilgit and all adjoining localities. The process of being resorted is such that they use heavy axes for ruthless cutting and lumping the glacier and during the course, hardly only 25% of could be lumped and loaded on vehicles for transportation to designated places as above while the rest cut away falls into the nullah that gushes froth from the glacier whereas 75 percent of the smashed glacial lumps get immersed in the nullah.
It is noteworthy that the glacier in question once skirting ‘khacho pach’ near ‘hinalkhur’ has now horrifically retreated by about a mile inside which obviously does not presage well in the environmental context. It may not singly be an attribute to its cutting but may be a factor further compounding the climate change effects in this part of the world as a result of the global phenomenon of earth-warming horrifically catalyzing glacier melt.
It is to be recalled that in the course of a serial publication titled ‘Agro-Forester of Gilgit-Baltistan’ in these columns about a year or so ago, much emphasis was laid on the urgent need of nipping the evil in the bud insofar as deforestation in this region already having sparse forest-covered area is concerned. But ironically, this did not evoke any positive response from the respective quarter as is very well demonstrated by the above sad occurences.
It is alleged that at places, village committees have been formed and accorded recognition as a legitimate bodies to ensure in their respective areas that no harm is done to the forests. They are equally authorized to issue permission to the individuals for logging of one or two kail trees for timber to help built houses, have been abusing this authority. The trend has reportedly developed that the individual villagers mostly resort to demolition of ancestral houses to re-erect a new ones in place of the former while selling the old timber for business purpose. Thus a conduit of selling freshly logged timber in various guises continues unabated.
This may be the case in the rest of valleys having forest cover. In Haramosh for instance, Khaltoro jungle is said to be under grave threat while that of Dassu has already witnessed a horrific denudation. Complaints have emanated the other day via social media that ruthless deforestation of Barchi and Jutial jungle is currently underway with 35 automatic saw machines while no cognizance is taken of this devastation which cannot be happen without collusion and connivance of the respective authorities. Just on the eve of filing instant write-up, sad news was afloat via social media lamenting ravages at Kutwal jungle in Haramosh exactly in the same fashion as referred to in the above.This all very is well points to the fact that we are on the threshold of the apocalypse because of a strong nexus of mafias with those sitting in the corridors of power practicing collusion and connivance.
Let it be reiterated that it is essential to get local communities involved in conservation processes but this could possible only when their legitimate needs are considered and alternate options are made available to them in the matter of prevailing resources use in the interest of long term sustainability. It is by such measures alone that a program could may be made more realistic as well as effective. While going down the memory lane, one living here for long, firewood was being brought into Gilgit from the adjoining Harali area on donkey-back to meet the needs of the then township which has now sprawled into a big city until 1970s. But thanks God, the provision of other means of fuel id est LPG frist by way of import from the neighbouring China by the NATCL generally called China trade and latter by other means, averted the ancient mode of logging trees of Harali forests.
The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He can be reached at Email:email@example.com