DWINDLING FOREST GROWTH IN PAKISTAN

DR. SYED MANZOOR ALAM
Apr 13 - 19, 2009

Forests play a vital role in the global ecology. Forestry is the understanding and sustainable management of the world's forests for the natural benefit of society. Forests and woodlands cover 30% of the world's land area. They produce renewable resources-wood from the trees, but also non-wood products such as honey, cork, fruits, mushrooms, essential oils, and medicines. They minimize carbon and can help to slow the rate of climate change. Forests protect soils and water, and provide habitats to wildlife. They are an important component of landscapes and can contribute to the physical and emotional wellbeing of local communities.

Forests are valuable assets for the nation and are the basic natural resources. They provide timber, firewood, forage, and other parts and help in conservation of soil fertility and thus enhance its productivity. Forest plays a vital role in the sustenance of the poor, particularly the rural population. They also sustain the country's wild life and provide recreational facilities. It plays a crucial role in the protection of the environment providing oxygen to the air, we breathe, and influencing the climatic of the country.

Much of the firewood consumed by men is collected from forests. By encroaching on these lands and bringing them under cultivation, we are destroying natural resource systems. Flora and fauna are essential elements in the welfare of human beings, providing the material bases for life food, clothing, and fuel.

In Pakistan the forest area is of only about 4-5 % of total land. If we compare our forest areas with other developing and developed countries of the world, the situation is grim, quite serious and pathetic. There are some countries, whose forests areas are quite large compared with our country. A few of them are ( %): Surinam 96, Zaire 78, Finland 76, Korea DPR 74, Bhutan 70, Japan 68, Brazil 67, Indonesia 67, Korea Republic 67, Sweden 64, Russia 41, Sri Lanka 37, Germany 40, USA 34, Switzerland 28, India 25, Bangladesh 18, China 34, UK 28, Israel 12, Pakistan 4.5 and world average 32. Pakistan ranks at 140th position regarding the area of forest in the world. According to one estimates, the forest area of the country decreased from 141,530 sq. km in 1880 to 67, 310 sq. km in 1980, a decrease of 52% in 100 years. The country lost some 7000- 9000 hectares of forest areas each year. It has been reported that between 1990 and 1995, Pakistan experienced deforestation at the rate of 1.1% annually.

The total forest covers of the country are small, when compared with other parts of the world i.e. 27% of the developed countries and 26% for the developing countries. Pakistan has only 0.03 ha of forest per capita, while corresponding figures for the developed and the developing countries are 1.07 and 0.5 hectares respectively.

Reasons are both natural and manmade. About 75% area falls under the arid and semi-arid zone and availability of water for growth of plants is a big constraint. Due to shortage of good quality trees and sufficient timbers, Pakistan has to import huge quantities of wood products from foreign countries.

Forests both natural and manmade, which are poorly stocked, slow growing forests, scattered throughout the country. Compared with other provinces of Pakistan, NWFP has a rich endowment of forests, which comprise 40% (or 3.59 million hectare) of its total area. Most are natural and occur at high elevation in fragile mountains in the north. Country's best forests grow in NWFP. Forestry employs abut 70,000 people in the province. Northern areas comprise 15.7% and AJK 6.7%.

Firewood is the main source of domestic energy supplemented by animal wastes and crop residues. About 90% of the rural population uses these traditional fuels. The existing forests supply less than one-fifth of the timber and one-fourth of the firewood needed by the country. The majority of the production comes from scattered trees privately grown on farms and rangelands. It is estimated that farm forests supply more than one-half of the timber and three-fourth of the firewood demand of the nation. The remaining timber demand is met through imports. Range-land forests and cultivated areas have come under substantial pressure in recent years from large increases in human and livestock populations.

Population expansion, development in agriculture and industry and other essential human needs have caused damage and destruction to wildlife habitats such as forests, rangelands, and wetlands.

With the advent of agriculture, forest became the prime tool to clear land for crops. Cities are built in a woody area providing the wood for some industry. Above all the massive use of wood in paper making has led to a new onslaught on forest. According to a recent UN report, paper production is responsible for 50% of the total wood harvested worldwide. The report further states that an area of forest equal to 20 football or rugby fields is lost every minute. Currently, 29.6 million acres of forests are cleared annually and more than 13 million acres of forests are mowed down annually to produce paper products. It is recommended that there must be at least 22-25% of forest areas in any country.

FOREST POLICY FOR PAKISTAN

In formulating a sound policy, a wide range of physical, institutional, socio-economic and technological factors need to be considered. Economic growth, employment and income generation in the rural areas are a must for the overall development of the country, as is improvement of productivity in agriculture and forestry. Because of poverty and poor education, the population is generally apathetic towards the destruction of the forests.

Modern technology is required in forest management, development of the communication system, forest soils study and survey, low-impact logging, extraction and transportation can only be achieved by new methods, while modern facilities and sufficient funding needs to be provided for education and training of forest departments, public and private sector employees. Depletion of forests adversely affects flora and fauna, biodiversity and genetic resources. Illegal logging, watercourse diversion, land clearance, and poaching of wildlife must all be stopped.