Strict laws for timber mafia

(Naseem Ul Haq Zahidi, Lahore)

The government’s flagship project, Ten Billion Tree Programme, will be a game changer for the climate and economy of Pakistan, if executed in letter and spirit. Calling trees vital for the country’s future, Prime Minister Imran Khan has suggested criminal cases and jail terms for mafias involved in felling trees. Right now, the law provides a petty fine for offenders. Over the decades, acres of forest, spreading across the country, most of which were developed by the British Raj, have disappeared thanks to weak laws and the power of timber mafias. The prime minister recalled his childhood memories when thick, green jungles of Kundian, near his Mianwali hometown, was a treat for to eyes. He said Kundian forest, spreading over nearly 20,000 acres, had millions of trees back in the 60s. Today, only a few trees can be seen there. Our children should be taught the importance of trees in schools.
Pakistan cannot afford neglecting climate change, which is increasingly resulting in deaths and destruction owing to extreme weather patterns. As per the Geremenwatch 2020 report, because of climate change more than 526,000 people died all over the world and losses of $3.3 trillion were incurred from 1998 to 2018. Pakistan’s share of toll in the period was 9,989 deaths and economic losses of $3.8 billion due to more than 300 extreme weather events. Pakistan is fifth on the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, the list of nations most affected by climate change. According to the report, the 10 countries most hit by natural calamities are Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, the Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, Nepal and Dominica. Pakistan’s geographic location and weak environment-related laws make it “prone to extreme weather events, in particular, heavy rainfalls”. In such a situation, programmes like billion trees and Green and Clean Pakistan are the best bets. The only thing needed is strict tracking of the execution of these programmes. In this regard, provincial governments should coordinate with each for better results. For example, Sindh government’s plan to reclaim its lost forests can be replicated across the country. The province has recently retrieved 600,000 acres of forests from encroachers and, under the Sindh Sustainable Forest Management Policy, the land will again come under forest cover with the active collaboration of local communities. It is time to make the environment a top priority.

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