Bad governance seen behind Pakistan’s massive deforestation

March 19, 2016 Off By Web Desk

KARACHI: Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment’s (SCOPE) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the country’s prominent environmentalist, Tanveer Arif said on Sunday that bad governance is behind Pakistan’s massive deforestation, which is colossal loss to green economy.

In an interview to Pakistan Press International (PPI) at his office, he said that Pakistan’s forests had been hacked to an alarming level, causing loss to green economy and livelihood for poor people. The deforestation rate in Pakistan is highest in the world. The government needs to restore all forests to 50-year-back level (1966). Other major reasons behind deforestation are allocation of low budgets, lack of government interest in reforestation, and lease of forest land to influential people, the prominent environmentalist informed.

Tanveer said all provinces should raise their forest budgets to at least 5% from below 1% level for raising and managing forests in better way. He said: “Raising forests will support green economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions for good of planet and environment.

SCOPE CEO said: Though official figures state Pakistan’s forest cover at 5% of its total land area, the fact contradicts such figure because lands cleaned of forests have also been included in the forest cover. He said that influential people had occupied vast areas of land in Pakistan which needs to be retrieved. It is possible to retrieve forest land from feudal lords in future, but it needs good governance or revolution.

He said: “Pakistan inherited feudal system from British Raja. Land distribution in Pakistan is highly unequal as 5% of large landholders possess 64% of total farm land and 65% small farmers hold 15% of land. Almost 40% of the land is owned by only 2.5% households and 24% land owned by only 0.4 households. The large land holders have all political powers and economic advantages. He said that 50.8 % of rural households are landless while the poverty amongst rural landless people is high.

The SCOPE CEO said that the corporate farming was initiated in Pakistan during former President Pervez Musharraf’s government which was against the rights of farmers. “Some Gulf countries have purchased lands in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan that would cause water scarcity and deprive local farming community of their rights. It will also cause food insecurity in rural areas, putting the livelihood of poor people at stake. Such kind of land purchasing is land grabbing, so there is dire need to accelerate efforts against such onslaughts,” Tanveer said.

He said that mangrove forests along coastal belt of Thatta, Badin and Karachi are being hacked fast, which needs to be stopped through better forest management and good governance. Mangrove forests reduce intensity of cyclones and are breeding ground of fish; therefore, it is mandatory to save and raise such forests for protecting cities and coastal areas from submerging. Mangrove tree plantation is easy and cheaper than other trees, so it should be raised massively, he informed.

He said that economic importance of mangroves of Indus delta could be ascertained from the fact that they provide important breeding zone for commercially important marine fish, shrimps, lobsters and crabs which help national economy to earn foreign exchange of US$ 100 million annually from exports, besides providing employment and livelihood to more than 100,000 people associated with fishing industry. “It is estimated that 90% commercially important tropical marine fish species, especially prawn, spend at least some part of their life in the mangroves. If the mangroves are degraded then as much as 250,000 tons of fish caught off the Sindh coast will be at risk.

Tanveer said the forest departments should provide training opportunities for learning and growth as human talent could be developed only through best training and mentoring. Increasing amount of challenge is also mandatory in this regard. There is also need to ensure implementation of all forest laws through forest officers.

Referring to a research report, Tanveer said Pakistan’s forests are controlled by provincial governments. The budget being allocated for the forest sector is meagre as compared to other sectors. Each province needs to raise the budget significantly in order to protect and raise forest gradually because of the fact that forests provide clean air, wood, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

He said Sindh’s total budget for financial year 2015¬-16 is Rs739 billion, out of which Rs1584.194 million were allocated as annual development program for Forest, Environment and Wildlife Department. Of which forest got only Rs 1316.628 million.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s total budget for financial year 2015¬16 is Rs 487.884 billion, out of which Rs 1.83 billion were allocated for Forest and Environment. Balochistan Budget 2015¬-16 was over Rs 243.528 billion. Of which Rs 300 million were allocated for 10 ongoing and eight new schemes of Forest and Wildlife sectors. Punjab’s budget for fiscal year 2015¬16 was Rs1.45 trillion, out of which Rs 900 million were earmarked for forestry, SCOPE CEO concluded.