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Billion Trees: A bygone story

Billion Trees: A bygone story

Unaware of the adverse effects of deforestation and climate change, Amanullah, a 71-year-old wood seller had expedited cutting of timber with a big saw machine in his wood taal eying to earn maximum capital.
Engaged extra laborers to cut native and indigenous species into pieces in his wood tall located on main GT Road at Pabbi station in Nowshera district, Amanullah Khan alias Hajji Sahib is working against the clock to fulfil the orders placed by the marriages halls, tandoors, hotels and restaurants in Nowshera and Peshawar districts where weeding season will start soon.
The sons of well off wood seller and labourers are working against the clock by preparing bundles of endangered shisham, pulai, ber, kikar, poplar, neem, amaltas, soru and jaman in wood taal with plenty of trees’ trunks brought from Nowshera, Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda and other nearby districts scattered all around on his business place where wood dust are exposing labourers to serious health hazards.
“With an arrival of Eidul Fitr celebrations and marriage season besides shortfall of gas and high prices of LPG cylinders, the demands of wood have increased manifold in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where one mound (50 kilogram) firewood are being sold from Rs700 to Rs800 depending upon its quality,” said Amanullah, adding these timber are being transported from different districts after its purchase from farmers on relatively less prices than open markets.
While moving on GT Road between Tarnab Peshawar and Azakakhel Nowshera, a visitor could be extremely disappointed to see a large number of cut timbers’ sleepers and even uprooted trunks of trees at wood taals, signifying a high rate of deforestation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
National Forest Policy 2015 has revealed that forests on communal lands, shamalats, guzara and private lands in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan were under heightened threats due to population explosion, poverty and socioeconomic imbalances.
The policy said that about 27,000 hactares of forest are being lost per year in Pakistan mostly in KP and GB where the high rate of deforestation mostly in watershed areas and community lands have adversely impacted agriculture yield, food security and quantity of water at outlets besides triggering land degradation, loss of biodiversity and wildlife as evident of 2022 floods.
The high rate of deforestation has not only amplified floods and facilitated sea water intrusion but also inflicted huge economic losses due to the government kitty as evidenced by devastative 2010 and 2002 floods affecting about 33 million people and 8.2 million homeless.
Dr Mumtaz Malik, former Chief Conservator Wildlife KP said that every year around 10 million hectares of forests were deforested equal to area of Portugal at global level, adding around half of this deforestation was counterbalanced by re-growing of forests, which means that an overall around five million hectares of the green gold was lost per year worldwide.
Terming overpopulation, poverty and unnecessary trees logging as one of the major causes of deforestation in KP, Dr Mumtaz Malik said that in 1947, Pakistan’s population was only 37 million that jumped to record 241 million in 2024 and if it continued growing with such high pace it is expected to touch 260.3 million in 2030 and 330.8 million by 2050, resulting vanishing of the green gold, wildlife and bees population from the country.
“The arrival of influx of over four million afghan refugees after USSR Invasion in 1979 had made negative effects on forest resources in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa including erstwhile Fata where even roots of thousands of trees were dig out by afghan refugees for monetary gains,” he said, adding the world community had made no significant contribution for revival of forestry sector in these areas that was a matter of great concerns.
Dr Mumtaz said about 68 percent forests in the country were being used as firewood and 15 percent trees were being lost due to urbanization and community-driven demands. He warned that if we do not change our green sector policies and shift to adaptation of alternative energy resources including solar, hydroelectric, biomass and wind then there is every possibility of losing existing forests in the next two decades besides witnessing frequent climate change’s disasters.
“Pakistan is highly susceptible to climate change and 2010 viz a viz 2022 floods were testimony of it,” said Fazl Elahi, Chief Conservator of Forests KP while talking to media. To counter climate change and deforestation, he said the green growth initiative (GGI) was launched with a main focus on six focal sectors including forestry, national parks, clean energy, climate resilience, water and sanitation besides water management.
Capitalizing on the GGI, he claimed that billion trees afforestration project was launched on November 2014 under which 1208 million saplings including 732 million through enclosures on 306,983 hectares land, 316 million through plantation on 263,213 hectares land and 160 million through farm forestry were planted in KP where 6.3 percent increase in forest covered areas were registered. He said the project was later extended to the entire country with a plantation target of 10 billion including additional one billion plants to KP for 2018-2023.
The Forest Department documents however revealed that the PTI led government has fallen short of the said target by planting only 707.36 million saplings in KP till December 31, 2023, thus facing a major shortfall of 292.64 million.
Wajid Ali Khan, former Environment and Forest Minister said that thousands of trees planted under the billion trees afforestration project were prematurely cut in the province which was a clear violation of the agreement signed between KP forest department and farmers.
He further claimed that these agreements were made in haste as these plantations were not meant for immature cutting of trees by the landowners and farmers under mutual agreements with the Forest Department.He alleged that billion trees plantation sites were badly affected in Peshawar, Haripur, Abbottabad, Manshera, Kohistan, Kohat, Bannu, Kurrum, Orakzai and South Waziristan due to wrong selection of sites by the 2022 floods, thus inflecting million rupees financial losses to the Govt kitty.
Alike reports of flood damages to dozens of plantation sites including avenue and moist afforestation were also reported due to alleged bad land destabilization schemes, nurseries and bio engineering from Swat, Shangla, Dir Kohistan, Dir and Chitral districts due to improper selection of afforestration sites while short spacing between plants in hilly areas caused negative on its growth.
The ex-minister said that PTI leadership’s tall slogans about transparency in the BTAP project were exposed after the project was taken over by NAB and Peshawar High Court and demanded speedy completion of the investigation.
He said shortage of water resources for young plantations have allegedly caused mortality of species. 10 BTAP was a Rs27.3 billion project with equal share of Rs13.5 billion of federal and KP governments.
KP Forest Department Chief Fazl Elahi said KP CM has principally decided to initiate the Billion Tree Plus project in order to enhance forest cover area and direction were issued to the quarters concerned to complete homework for launching of the project at earliest to offset the monster challenges posed by deforestation and climate change to the region.