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 was behind Pakistan’s massive deforestation was colossal loss to green economy.
In an interview to Pakistan Press International (PPI) at his office, he said 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 environmentalist informed.
Tanveer said that all the provinces should raise their forest budgets to at least five per cent from below one per cent for raising and managing forests in a better way. He said: “Raising forests will support green economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions for goods of the planet and environment.”
The SCOPE CEO said: “Though official figures state that Pakistan’s forest cover at five per cent 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 Raj. Land distribution in Pakistan is highly unequal as five per cent of large landholders possess 64 per cent of total farm land and 65 per cent small farmers hold 15 per cent of the land. Almost 40 per cent of the land is owned by only 2.5 per cent households and 24 per cent land owned by only 0.4 households. The large land holders have all political powers and economic advantages. He said that 50.8 per cent of rural households were landless while the poverty amongst rural landless people was 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, 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 1,00,000 people associated with fishing industry. “It is estimated that 90 per cent 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 2,50,000 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 that Pakistan’s forests were controlled by the provincial governments. The budget being allocated for the forest sector is meager 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 provides clean air, wood, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
He said Sindh’s total budget for financial year 2015-16 is Rs 739 billion, out of which Rs 1584.194 million were allocated as annual development programme for forest, environment and wildlife department. Of which forest got only Rs 1316.628 million, he added.
“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 Rs 1.45 trillion, out of which Rs 900 million were earmarked for forestry,” the SCOPE CEO concluded.