Published On: Sun, Aug 24th, 2014

Swat admin fails to control deforestation

Tree cutting in Swat

Tree cutting in Swat


By Abdur Razzaq
PESHAWAR: Forests in every country help preserve biodiversity, fight climate change and support people’s livelihood, but despite the benefits, officials in Pakistan have failed to protect its forests. Hence, forest cutting in Swat, a district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is on its peak, local residents say.
Residents complain of energy shortages, which is why they cut trees. 40-year-old, Saleem Khan, a resident of Kalam valley was seen cutting a tree, even before its maturity stage.
“We realize these trees and forests are the sole source of natural beauty of this region, which brings tourists here,” he says. “But we do not have electricity and gas here in these mountainous areas and that is why we cut trees for our daily use in winters.”
Khan says there was snowfall in almost the entire month of December in Swat and other surrounding valleys such as Kalam, Otrol, Madian, Behrain Malam Jaba, and Mingora, and the weather was extreme. Hence, timber has to be collected beforehand to avoid difficulties in cooking and keeping their houses warm.
But not only to meet the energy needs. According to the officials, 25 percent forest has been decimated during militancy in upper Swat. “Use of timber for furniture, shelters and burning purpose is not the sole reason of deforestation in Swat but also the lack of government check,” says Hazer Gul, a 40-year-old social activist from Salampor, a village of Swat district. “In 2007 when militancy was on peak in Swat; initially the militants relied on ‘donations’ but later they started cutting trees to meet their financial needs.”
According to official record, 46 percent area of lower Swat is forest covered area, whereas the ratio of forests in upper Swat is 86 percent of the total area, he added.
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Gul said the forests in lower Swat, including Najigaram valley, Karakur Pass and Elum are small in size as compared to the upper Swat’s forests. Deforestation in Swat continues as the Forest Department hasn’t initiated any action against those involved in this illegal activity.
Timber mafia with the help of government officials are cutting trees ruthlessly in Kalam, Behrain, Mata, Sahroo and other areas. The illegally cut timbers are then shifted to other parts of the country, and interestingly, has no record and hence, out of the tax ambit.
A tree usually takes a minimum 100 years to mature to be used for furniture work, adds Gul.
Fazle Maula, who also hails from Swat, has expertise in agriculture and has worked on forestry and biodiversity in the valley. He says in Swat 30 percent of the people’s source of income is forests. “Forests were a hub for honey bees but due to deforestation, the honey business has been badly affected.”
He adds: “In Malakand and Swat divisions we have pines, Dewdar, Cedar and Bayar forests in large scale. Before Talibanization the forestry was in bloom,” he says. “But the smuggling mafia was very active and with the militants; they smuggled huge quantity of timber to other parts of the country for their funds. A large number of trees were burnt to ashes.”
Mir Wali Khan, Divisional Forests Officer Swat, says that during militancy, the Department had suspended its activities in the field because of worst security situation.
“In the absence of proper mobility and checking the militants cut trees in Malam Jaba, Miadam, Lalku, Shawar, Beha Roringpor and Shahderai blocks of Swat forest division and the total forest damage was 726,589 cubic feet of trees worth Rs 70 million,” he says.
While rejecting the allegations that the Forest Department has failed to control deforestation in the valley, he said they had now established two main checkpoints in Fizagat and Landaki area of Swat, which were functional and efficient staffers were deployed to control illegal flow of timbers.

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“In last five to six months we have impounded 15 trucks of timber and recovered fine in millions from those involved in illegal activities,” he says. “For the protection of trees we even have forest guards in each forest for safeguarding.”
Moreover, he added, a mega project would soon be started in areas affected by deforestation where saplings would be planted in large scale.

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