2 million trees destroyed every year
Hundreds of thousands of wooden boxes are used for
fruits and vegetable exports
By SYED M. ASLAM
June 11 -17, 2001
Environment still much remains a topic good only to
evince intellectual prowess, win academic discussions and organise
walks which have become so vogue in Pakistan. However, even these
feel-good activities, with added attraction of self-promotion
thrown-in, failed to elicit an appropriate response from
powers-that-be to celebrate June 5 as the World Environment Day, which
has come and gone without making the least stir.
With an apathy running so deep and an indifference
bordering on callousness it would not come as surprise to many to
learn that an estimated 2 million trees are destroyed with complete
impunity in Pakistan. In last five years some 10 million, repeat ten
millions trees, have been destroyed to manufacture wooden fruits and
vegetables boxes, not only from farm to markets within the country but
also for export purposes.
The degradation of environment with complete
impunity such as above is not only self-orchestrated it also spells
doom for a country like Pakistan reeling from an already acute
shortage of forest cover — about 5 per cent compared to the
internationally accepted standard of 25 per cent.
Using wood for fruits and vegetables has been
banned in many countries around the world. In fact, wood crates have
become passe' across the world. And yet the practice goes on unabetted
in Pakistan destroying whatever little trees we are left with amidst
an already precarious forest-cover ratio.
The theme of this year's World Environment Day was
'Connect with the World Wide Web of Life.' The silence with which June
5 was unceremoniously come and go speaks volumes about the importance
which we attaches to environment as a nation and the fact that
environment in practical term means nothing at all to us. Again, what
do you expect from the government and a people which fails to take
notice of massive slaughter of trees for petty economic gains at the
cost of irreversible environmental damage.
Driven by economics
Chairman of Fruits, Vegetables Processors and
Exporters Association, Mateen Siddiqui, confirmed that hundreds of
thousands of wooden boxes are used for fruits and vegetable exports.
Though exports of fresh fruits in wooden crates have never been
subjected to governmental ban, five years ago the exports of fruits,
particularly Pakistan's signature citrus fruit 'Kino', was done in
paperboard cartons. At present, fruits are exported to all
destinations including some of the major markets like UK, Singapore,
Dubai in the crude wood cartons. He said that previously wood cartons
were made of kekar wood. However, the acceptance of wood cartons by
the importers in the international markets was made possible by the
increased use of eucalyptus wood, which unlike kekar, is
fungus-resistant even when moisture seeps in.
Just as there is no restriction to export fruits in
wood cartons from Pakistan there is no restriction to import it in
these major markets. However, the things would not remain so easy in
the near future if Sri Lanka is any indication. Till recently Sri
Lanka like all other fruit importing countries had no qualms to accept
delivery in wood cartons. However, today it only imports fruits from
Pakistan in paper cartons. Mateen told PAGE that Singapore
which at present still imports fruits in wood cartons from Pakistan
may prefer to go the Sri Lankan way as wood carton unlike its paper
counterpart is not bio decomposable and as the only decomposing
method, burning, causes air pollution.
Mateen said that the widespread use of
environmentally unfriendly wood cartons is driven more by economics
than anything else. For instance, a wood carton which can carry as
much as 10 kilogram weight costs just Rs 11-12 compared to Rs 55-60
for the same-strength paperboard carton. Hundreds of thousands of wood
cartons are used to export fruits, including high volume kino as well
as mango, just to Dubai, the biggest dumping market of fresh Pakistani
Mateen said that exports of fruits in wood cartons
should be banned for another reason — the crudely made fixtures
diminishes the value due to their repulsive looks. It also dimishes
the value of fruits irrespective of quality. On the other hand, the
paperboard boxes though a bit expensive, can help fetch far better
prices, he added.
Forest, the collective habitat of trees, copse and
plantations, supports human and animal life in many beneficial ways.
They release the most vital ingredient of life, oxygen, into the air.
Without trees, the quality of the air that we breathe would not be as
healthy to take an immensely unhealthy toll on our lives.
Forests, and for that matter trees, also help cool
the land to enhance rainfall. They also slow down wind evaporation.
Absence of forests, or trees, render atmosphere much more drier to
cause respiratory problems, a problem not unfamiliar to tree-lacked
urban populace of the country.
Forests help prevent erosion of land to act as a
barrage against flood and rainfall. Without forests the rain and snow
melting during summer would result in droughts on one hand and floods
on the other as the soil is stripped of nutrients. In addition,
deforestation results in washing the silt down to canals which not
only adversely affects the agricultural production but also burdens
the economy with substantial sums for canal cleaning.