Deforestation in AJK
THE region of Azad Kashmir which is located in the northern part of Pakistan is unique in its beauty.
Lush green forests, beautiful pastures and invaluable bounty of nature set it apart from the rest of the world.
Azad Kashmir is known for its natural beauty and beautiful sceneries.People flock to Azad Kashmir in large numbers for sightseeing and to be close to nature.
Because of these beautiful landscapes, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir had said that Kashmir is a paradise on earth.
However, as time goes on, this beautiful land is losing its beauty.Dense forests are slowly disappearing and in turn, adversely affecting the environment.
AJK is known as a forestry state with 42 % of its 13,297 square kilometres (5,134 sq.miles) under the control of the Forest Department.
Estimated population of the AJ&K is about 4.36 millions of which 88.12% of the rural population depend on forest resources, livestock and agriculture for their livelihood.
It is common knowledge that people living near forests have an unwise approach to using wood and forests for their daily needs which is considered to be the main cause of deforestation.
Most rural households use forests for their livestock fodder, cutting large trees for constructing their homes, ceilings, bridges, furniture and most importantly for fuel purposes, which is the only source of energy available for them (cooking and heating).
An average household in AJK consumes three trees for maintenance such as fixing roofs and for fuel.Timber products are also used by the local community for cash.
There is also an economic reason behind deforestation as it is observed that when rural wages are low, timber prices are high results in massive deforestation.
An easy access to forests for everyone encourages people to cut down trees and use them for their needs clearly depicts the failure of forest department in managing the natural resource.
In this way, migration and population growth both effect deforestation rates.
At the same time, another major reason for deforestation is the political backing of the timber mafia.
As a result, the political people are sidelined for their part and the mafia continues to massacre this great blessing of nature.
Along with these causes, heavy utility of wood for commercial and residential construction in Azad Kashmir is continuing in an unrestrictive manner.
Similarly, due to non-transparent distribution of funds for government projects between core and peripheries and with the assistance of local administration on the name of service or main roads, mountains are drilled and blasted to create plain surfaces for roads without following proper procedures and conducting surveys as a result, trees are lost that leads to soil erosion and land sliding.
Studies have found that management of forest resources are ineffective, most forestry institution are ill-defined and suffering from severe shortcomings in Azad Kashmir.
Departments usually lack management and monitoring strategies and negligent in control illegal logging.
According to state forest laws, the government can sell only damaged trees after a necessary assessment by forest officials.
However, powerful timber mafia illegally chops and smuggle green trees under the cover of operations to extract sick or fallen trees.
Sometimes, forests are set on fire by the timber mafia to justify the damage of trees, a practice which has caused enormous loss to local forests and wildlife habitats.
Between 24th of December 2018 and 20th of December 2021 Azad Kashmir experienced a total of 521 VIIRS Alerts fire alerts.810ha of land has burned so far in 2021.
The natural resources of the region suffered irrecoverable loss during the earthquake of October 2005 when more than 1,000 small and larger landslides claimed many lives and damaged a large number of native plants and animals.
A closer look reveals shocking losses, such as the massive deforestation by the timber mafia in the undulating valleys of Azad Kashmir and the rapid deforestation in dense green areas.
If this situation continues then forests and trees will soon be cut down from Azad Kashmir.Rain and snowfall will stop in the region, which will end the natural beauty.
The region has begun to attract a large number of tourists but as these areas are slowly losing their green majestic attraction due to the activities of the greedy timber mafia, tourists will stop visiting these areas which will affect the tourism industry.
This will increase unemployment and many other problems.Therefore, immediate remedial measures are needed to prevent the catastrophe.
Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Abdul Qayyum Niazi has clearly marked in his statement that strict actions will be taken against culprits and in October 2021, where he said, large-scale work will be started to increase forests in Azad Kashmir.
Hence, it is a high time for Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir to draft and adopt eco-friendly policies in order to protect glaciers, promotion of tourism and moderate the recurrence of consequences generated by climate change in AJK.
The other interventions for mitigation purposes are: firstly, to initiate awareness campaigns on societal level by realizing local masses about the significance of forests and impacts of rapid deforestation on community.
Secondly, government should uplift the law execution bodies for controlling illegal wood trade and non-administered tree cutting ratio.
With the collaboration of forestry department, civil society and bio-scientists there is a need to introduce alternate economical resources and methods as replacement of wood utility for performing same multiple purposes.
Local trade community and forestry department should work together to uplift the trade activities in AJK.
There is also need to conduct researches not only on the increasing forestry zones but also improved the productivity level of various commodities via forests like the massive production of high-quality honey produced in Bagh region is one of the biggest example.
—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Muzaffarabad.