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Systematic DEFORESTATION ruining Sindh's economy - Destroying environment, people losing livelihood.

Byline: M Nawaz Khuhro

Systematic deforestation in last three decades has deprived Sindh province of a massive forest cover, 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.

An investigation carried out by this reporter revealed that the forest cover in Sindh has reduced to an alarming level of less than 2 per cent, forcing an estimated one million people to migrate to other areas in the province in last 30 years.

Based on official documents, field visits, and research data, the investigative report disclosed that some 145,000 acre forestland has been encroached by the powerful tribal chieftains and land grabbers, whereas the successive provincial governments themselves have illegally allotted 64,500 acre forestland 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 - mainly aimed at obtaining more and more agriculture land.

"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 - a claim however rejected by experts and NGOs working against deforestation.

"Forestland in Sindh has been leased out to influential people, including politicians and tribal chiefs, who have converted it into agriculture land after hacking forests," Jamali said.

Jamali said, "As per the UN and the WHO standards, any country or province in the world should have at least 25 per cent of forest cover out of its total land area for better livelihood and environment, but unfortunately, Sindh is short of more than 23.10 per cent forest cover," he added.

Sindh that borders neighboring India has a total land area of 14.091 million hectares, of which 1.125 million hectares are allocated for forests.

The existing forests in Sindh are classified as riverine forests, irrigated plantations, and mangrove forests. Riverine forests are located along both the banks of Indus River in Sukkur, Ghotki, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Khairpur Mirs, Larkana, Dadu, Naushehro Feroze, Nawabshah, Thatta and Hyderabad districts.

Irrigated forests exist in Nawabshah, Tharparkar, Sanghar districts, while mangrove forests exist in Karachi, Thatta and Badin districts.

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.

The investigation finds 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) till October 2017. Thus, the forest cover of Sindh has reduced to 1.90 per cent from 5.11 per cent.

According to the government data, a massive deforestation in Sindh took place from 1979 to 2010. Riverine forests in Hyderabad and Nawabshah districts reduced 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.

Illegal encroachments involving powerful land mafia, illegal timber trade, torching of dense forest areas to dismantle bandits' hideouts, change in Indus River course, discharge of industrial and city sewerage, illegal logging, sea erosion, and sea land reclamation appear to be key reasons behind deforestation in Sindh, according to experts.

All Karachi Tajir Ittehad Chairman Muhammad Atiq Mir said 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."

"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. "Most of areas in these regions have turned empty and barren, while desertification in arid areas, including Kohistan and Thar regions, is also rising with each passing day due to cutting of trees and bushes," he said. 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, which sits on the bank of Indus River, about 430 kilometer from Karachi - capital of Sindh, and the country's commercial capital-, asserts 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. "Hardly one per cent forest in this reverine area of Sindh exists," he maintained. 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, in his early 60s said.

"Due to deforestation, the local people have now been compelled to purchase all these through extra labor work. He said that over 100,000 people from riverine areas of Khairpur had migrated to towns and cities of Sindh due to massive deforestation. A field visit observed that only a small forest cover, which local people estimated at only one per cent, exists in Larkana and Khairpur districts' total land area.

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 (area between two banks of River Indus)," Waheed Jamali said. Therefore, he insisted, the Sindh government should introduce effective land acquisition policy to control deforestation.

"Due to deforestation, people have been constantly migrating to towns and cities, where they are facing problems of livelihood earning, water shortage and residence", he maintained. 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.

"Due to continuous deforestation, the temperature in Sindh has risen, poverty has deepened. As a result, people have been regularly migrating from katcha areas to other districts, which are already densely populated and resource-strapped", Jamali noted. Pakistan Economic Survey 2016-17 said: "Pakistan is one of the low forest cover countries with only 5 per cent of land area under forest and tree cover whereas international requirement is 25 per cent.

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 perpetual 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 and Health (NFEH) President Muhammad Naeem Qureshi in an interview.

He said that in Karachi alone, over 19,000 trees had been chopped down for construction of route for a government transport project in last one and half years, while 5,000 more trees in the city were also cut down for adversely affected countries by climate change. The katcha, hilly and urban areas are gradually losing tree cover as a result, temperature is rising. Climate Change Ministry's Deputy Director Muhammad Saleem Shaikh said: "Due to deforestation, the climate is rapidly changing and becoming hotter and dryer in Sindh." "Deforestation is a grave environmental as well as social and economic issue that destroys ecosystem, affects human health, increases poverty and temperature."

The perpetual destruction of mangroves has badly impacted the production of fish and prawn along Karachi in last two decades, according to Shaikh. Also, numbers of several rare birds and animals like houbara bustard, partridges, caracal, hog deer, jackal, forest cat, eagle, Siberia birds and many others have reduced to an alarming level due to deforestation.
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Publication:Energy Update
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 21, 2017
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