Pakistan constitutes one of the world’s most extended high-altitude rainforest regions. Various forms of degradation and encroachment, mostly due to human intervention, seriously threaten this region. With its dramatic geological history, Pakistan spans a remarkable number of broad ecological regions.
Since early 80s, Pakistan stands among those countries where “Green Cover” — “Forestation” disappeared with fastest deteriorating rate due to immense population pressure mingled with unchecked activities of timber mafias that played havoc with forests mostly in fragile lands of northern Pakistan.
Misguided economic policies in past have widened inequalities and forced mountainous people to exploit biodiversity at rates that are no longer sustainable. As a result, processes such as deforestation, overgrazing and soil erosion have become major threats to the remaining biodiversity of Pakistan. Poverty and lack of appropriate policies also contributed to disproportionate pressures on resources resulting in degradation in uplands that ultimately cause more and more degradation at lowlands.
Degradation in high mountain areas starts in high altitude watersheds where many factors, particularly deforestation, results in soil erosion. Degradation and soil erosion cause further degradation. Effects become causes and causes become effects in this “degradation cycle.”
An absence of trees results in loss of shelter for shrubs, which often die off under the burning sun of months of May and June, just before monsoons hit the area and soils become more prone to water and wind erosion.
Removal of forests or other vegetation sharply reduces water retention and increases erosion, resulting in reduced water availability in dry seasons and more degradation in downstream water. This results changes in river flows and sediment and pollutant loadings in our dams.
The sitting government of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif understands that if the current deforestation rate and the trend of land conversion from forest to other uses is not checked, then the country will not be able to meet its international commitments under the Millennium Development Goals to increase its forest cover. Addressing this issue, Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif kicked off “The Green Pakistan Programme” that will be implemented between year 2016 and 2021.
Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has directed his team to take extraordinary measures to increase forestation in the country and an amount of 3.7 billion rupees (approximately 37,000,000 $) will be distributed amongst the federating units under Green Pakistan Project (GPP) to enhance forest cover in the country. The decision of release of funds was taken by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) in a meeting on November 10 on the directions of the Prime Minister.
GPP will be the largest program of forestation in the history of Pakistan, targeting access to one hundred billion dollars global green fund.
Under this project, Rs 3.7 billion will be provided to all the four provinces as well as Gilgit Baltistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir for tree cover.
The programme is being launched as a national cause and part of the present government’s efforts to protect the country and its people from devastating impacts of climate change-induced disasters, particularly floods, which have shown rise in intensity and frequency over recent years. Pakistan faced worst flooding of history of South Asia in last 10 years effecting and displacing over 20 million people in year 2010 while floods in year 2005 displaced over 7 million people.
This is known fact that forests hold back floodwater by nearly 72 hours when heavy rains start in catchment areas and provide enough response time to people living downstream to protect them from forthcoming flooding.
Sustainable Development cannot be achieved without balancing infrastructure development with environmental improvements. Since Pakistan has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, therefore the need to manage balance has become more crucial.
This is encouraging to see seriousness of sitting Federal Government towards fighting deforestation and increasing area under trees. Forestry sector in Pakistan has never been taken seriously by previous governments and Non-government Organisations (NGOs) played a lead role and got billions of dollars in funding in past from international donors but where funding had been utilized?—- is a big question without any appropriate answer.
The decision of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif to launch GPP should be appreciated because it will also help to raise awareness among the policymakers, parliamentarians and politicians about the socio-economic and health-related benefits of the forestry and engage them in overall efforts for fighting deforestation and increase tree cover.
There is a saying in Central Asian societies that “A Treeless Land produces a Futureless Generations”. We should be hopeful that GPP initiative will help us for a Green Walk to our Future —-with a tress cover over our land instead of a Treeless Land producing only Futureless Generations.