Deforestation – a growing concern

Muhammad KarimBy Muhammad Karim
One of the major environmental concerns that the world today faces is deforestation. A report by UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) quotes that since 1990, the world had lost forests covering some 129m hector-an area the size of South Africa. Owing to the severity of this huge forest loss and the associated environmental risks, nations of the developed world had taken some serious steps to preserve these vital-for-life resources of the world. On their quest they have achieved a remarkable 50% reduction in the rate of net forest loss, quotes the same report. Contrary to the encouraging tendency towards a reduction in the rate of deforestation globally, some under-developed countries are still on the losing side of the battle to preserve natural forests.
Pakistan being an under-developed country is one of the countries which are underperforming when it comes to dealing with environmental concerns, especially in preserving natural forests. Only 4.8% of the total land of Pakistan has forest on it compared to the desired level of 25%, and it too is declining with a steady rate. According to one estimation, about 39000 ha of forest is being cleared every year in Pakistan, which is clearly an alarming situation for a country which is already battling with many instabilities due to natural and manmade calamities.
A major portion of Pakistan’s total forest, approximately 40% lies in the KPK province. The north belt of KP province which houses major portion of the natural forests, faces sever deforestation due to many reasons, of which, use of forest wood as a fuel and construction material being the important ones. Chitral, which lies in the northern belt of the KP province is one of the few regions in the KP province which faces sever deforestation for quite a long time. A study conducted on the subject has identified that the rate of deforestation in Chitral has rapidly increased from the year 2000 and onward. The research has concluded that if deforestation continues with the current rate, Chitral will lose 23% of its current forest by 2030. This estimate is very alarming for some regions in Chitral such as Arandu which will as per the report lose 85% of its current forest by the timeline mentioned in the report.
There are a multitude of causes for deforestation as wood is an important raw material which is used both on a domestic and industrial level. In the context of Chitral, two important causes are; the use of forest wood as a construction material, and as fuel material for domestic purposes. Though the use of timber wood as a construction material has been an old and dominant practice in Chitral, but the unnecessary customization of modern house buildings, the use of wood instead of the old practice of using local materials such as, clay and stone for building roofs, and the absence of proper building design guidelines has tripled the use of wood compared to what it used to be in the past. A single room, divided into two or three sections with each section functioning as a multi-purpose space was used to be a typical residential house in Chitral, housing a large 5-10 member family. But today, even a very small family constructs a house building having 12 different compartments as a minimum. This extra spacing, and increase in building size has increased the demand and use of wood for construction purposes. Apart from it the increase in population and the weakening of joint family system is creating extra demand of forest wood not just for construction purpose but also as fuel material. In the face of such growing demand of the forest wood and apparently having no alternatives, it seems unavoidable to put a halt on the increasing rate of deforestation, at least for the moment. But there are few things that we as an individual and as a family can do, to at least partially lessen the burden on our forests.
We can change for positive our attitudes towards building houses. Building a house based on need rather than wish can save us a lot in wood, and that would be good both for our economy and the environment around us. Revival of our old and traditional housing concepts with positive modification is the need of the time. In fact it’s the basic tenant of the modern green building concepts. Small houses, with multi-purpose spaces inside rather than customized multiple spaces are good both for us and our environment. The saved money on extra spaces can then be utilized on the strength of the building-which is again a largely ignored part in building construction in the context of Chitral. With proper planning,modern techniques and technologies can be incorporated into rural housing, paving ways for an alternative to wood as a fuel material. Renewable energies, such as solar and hydropower can be utilized for cooking and heating purposes. Use of solar water geysers, electric cooking ovens, and room heaters are already in use in some rural homes in Chitral. Such usages can be utilized on a larger scale thus avoiding the use of wood as a fuel material. Such alternatives are not only economical but also can avoid many health hazards that are associated with using wood as a fuel material.
Academies can play a vital role in creating awareness on environmental concerns and promoting the use of environmental friendly alternatives. The local practice of planting trees in the plantation season which used to be practiced very enthusiastically in the past has almost faded away. Such practices can be revived and promoted among the new generation through plantation drives in schools, colleges and universities. Courses on forest conservation and environmental sciences can be incorporated into the newly established university syllabus, which can greatly contribute in producing environmentally concerned citizens.
In summary, deforestation is a global problem, and we being member of the global community need to be aware of the disastrous consequences of having barren lands above us, with a global temperature rise. We need to stop cutting trees around that pump oxygen into our lungs, protect us from dangerous emissions, regulate our atmosphere, provide habitat for many animal and bird species, keep our soil intact, and provide psychologically pleasing sceneries. But we can’t do this unless we provide alternatives to its different usages, and such alternatives are already there, we just need to change our living habits a little bit.
(The writer is an Engineer by profession and an MS student of Environmental Design).