THE government has approved the launch of "Green Pakistan Programme" designed to plant 100 million trees during the next five years all over the country along canals and roadsides as well as in the forest areas of KPK, Fata, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh. The federal government would provide 50 percent of the funding requirement, while the provinces will defray the rest of the cost. The programme has not come a day too soon. Pakistan is one of the few countries most affected by the negative trajectory of climate change. Extreme weather conditions as manifested by frequent floods and heat waves have played havoc with life and property in the length and breadth of the country over the last few years.
Environmental degradation in Pakistan is a well-established phenomenon impacting the entire national social and economic landscape. Our forests, wetlands and other natural resources are getting increasingly destroyed by soil erosion, degradation of organic matter, water-logging, salinity and disappearance of natural vegetation. Water basins are receding and water pollution is on the rise. Forest cover is shrinking due to over-exploitation of forest resources. The latest estimates show that the total area of forests in Pakistan is 4.224 million hectares which is 4.8 per cent of the total land area. Plant biodiversity is under attack from population explosion, unplanned urbanisation, deforestation and over-exploitation of natural resources. Climate change is having a devastating impact on Tharparkar which has faced 13 periods of severe drought during the last 20 years. These droughts have resulted in large scale destruction of wildlife and vegetative cover.
Rapid economic development and man-made interference in the natural systems are the chief reasons behind this problem. The increasing population, overgrazing and unemployment also cause deforestation. Fewer forests decrease the ratio of oxygen in the atmosphere, jeopardizing human survival. Although the government has set up a number of ministries and departments devoted to environment protection, there is no serious attempt on the ground to conserve ecology. Under the latest initiative, the Ministry of Climate Change is to devise plans for the assessment of forests depletion using modern technology, and also for both short- and long-term forest resource expansion. The ministries of Climate Change and Science and Technology will work together, helped by the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission's imaging technology, to monitor the forests for illegal logging and degradation on a regular basis. The present initiative will require provincial governments to devise new methods to preserve and enlarge forests.
An example has been set by KPK, where one-billion-tree campaign is already under way and the government has banned even routine logging to prevent wanton destruction of forests by timber mafias. But other provinces have not yet shown any serious interest in planting trees - the single most important defence against environmental degradation caused by greenhouse gas emissions. While planting trees along roads is vital to offset carbon emissions, the authorities concerned also need to adopt other measures to reduce environmental pollution. Until a few years ago, it was mandatory for vehicles to annually obtain road fitness certificates. Over time, this important provision is no longer enforced. For sustainable management of our natural resources, it is advisable to dovetail it with other, existing programmes that seek to increase tree cover and preserve biodiversity. For the initiative to make a meaningful impact on the ecology of Pakistan, it will need to be aligned with a broader set of programmes and projects based on a comprehensive study of the existing and emerging problems in this vital sector.