Massive deforestation in Sindh degrades environment, raises poverty
KARACHI: Systematic deforestation in last three decades has reduced Sindh forest cover to an alarming level of 1.90 per cent from 5.11 per cent, which subsequently has led to widespread migration, rise in poverty, and destruction to ecology apart from costing an annual loss of millions of dollars to the national exchequer, according to an investigative report.
The report revealed that when compared to Sindh’s total area of 14.091 million hectares, the province’s riverine forests have declined to 0.05 million hectares (0.35 per cent), irrigated forests to 0.082 million hectares (0.14 per cent), and mangrove forests to 0.2 million hectares (1.41 per cent) in last 30 years.
The report disclosed that some 145,000 acre forest land has been encroached by the powerful tribal chieftains and land grabbers, whereas the successive provincial governments themselves have illegally allotted 64,500 acre forest land to their political favorites during this period.
“The forest area of 145,000 acres is under forcible encroachment, whereas 64,500 acres have been illegally allotted by Sindh revenue department,” Chief Conservator of Forests, Sindh, Aijaz Ahmed Nizamani said in an interview.
Though, Nizamani declined to point finger at the illegal occupants of the forest land, independent experts, including Waheed Jamali, founder of Society for Environmental Actions, Re-Construction and Humanitarian response heap the blame on powerful tribal lords and parliamentarians for this unabated phenomenon.
“Ruthless harvesting is the key factor behind deforestation,” Nizamani admitted asserting that the Sindh forest department is working on a reform plan to bring forests back with the help of local communities.
“Forest land in Sindh has been leased out to influential people, including politicians and tribal chiefs, who have converted it into agriculture land,” Jamali said. He said, “As per the UN standards, any country or province in the world should have at least 25 per cent of forest cover out of its total land area, but unfortunately, Sindh is short of 23.10 per cent forest cover,” he added.
Syed Ghulam Qadir Shah, National Coordinator Pakistan for International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Mangroves For Future (MFF) program, said in an interview: “World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Pakistan in 2008-09 estimated an area of approximately 92,412 hectares in the Indus Delta and 1,056 hectares in Sandspit area along Karachi coast.” The government has added more trees in mangroves forest after this period, he added.
According to the government data, a massive deforestation in Sindh took place from 1979 to 2010. Riverine forests in Hyderabad and Nawabshah districts hacked to 0.72 per cent, 5.97 per cent in Sukkur and Shikarpur, whereas 2.93 per cent in Larkana, Dadu and Khairpur districts during this period.
A WWF research says that coastal mangrove ecosystems in Pakistan had been seriously degraded over the last 50 years as a result of freshwater diversion for agriculture and industrial purposes.
All Karachi Tajir Ittehad Chairman Mohammad Atiq Mir said in an interview that Sindh’s forest cover had declined due to land grabbing, illegal timber trade and logging of trees by local people. He said: “About 80 per cent wood for furniture and other needs is imported from foreign countries.
Migration and livelihood crunch
“Estimated one million people from riverine areas and rangelands have migrated to towns and cities of Sindh in three decades after ruthless deforestation,” said Saleem Shaikh, deputy director at Climate Change Ministry in an interview.
According to Shaikh, environmental degradation, for which deforestation is a major contributor, costs an annual loss of approximately Rs 700 billion ($6.64 billion) to the national kitty.
Ali Gul Khuhro, whose father migrated from Katcha area to village Dilawar Khuhro, near the bank of Indus River, asserted that about 99 per cent of the forest area of Khairpur and Larkana districts had been hacked, which had deprived local people of their livelihood.
“Some 30-35 years ago, 70 per cent of our livelihood came from forests which used to provide us firewood, vegetables and fodder for cattle, which ultimately provided us milk, curd and cooking oil,” Khuhro said.
Adding to Poverty
Deforestation has also added to the already grinding poverty in forest neighboring communities in recent decades. About 70 per cent Sindh’s land is presently dry, and if deforestation continues with this pace, there will be more rise in poverty in katcha areas.
According to latest Sindh Forest Department data, the forests of Sindh province prior to World War II were almost fully stocked. Owing to excessive wartime pressure, the over exploitation of the forests was unavoidable. This inevitably resulted in over felling and depletion of the forest resources.
Massive deforestation in Sindh has also contributed to climate change in Pakistan. The temperature in the Sindh province, particularly in Karachi, has risen significantly due to deforestation in last three decades, according to environmentalists.
“The temperature in Karachi during last five years has increased by 5 degrees centigrade and deforestation is one of its contributors,” said National Forum for Environment & Health (NFEH) President Mohammad Naeem Qureshi in an interview.
Climate Change Ministry’s Deputy Director Mohammad Saleem Shaikh said: “Due to deforestation, the climate is rapidly changing and becoming hotter and dryer in Sindh.
To restore forest cover, the federal government has initiated five-year-long Green Pakistan Program to plant 100 million indigenous saplings in the country. The federal government will bear 50 per cent of the total cost while remaining cost will be paid by the provincial governments, Gilgit-Baltistan, AJK and Fata regions. The share of Sindh in the program is Rs 780 million, of which the federal government will pay Rs 331.715 million while Rs 448.285 million will be borne out by Sindh government.
The solution to deforestation is to implement the laws, ensure strict punishment to the accused and initiate more tree plantations like Green Pakistan Programme.