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Environmental threats in Chitral and Us

By Shah Karez Khan

Chitral is the largest district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with an area of 14,800 square kilometers. The IUCN satellite images of Chitral taken in 2001 give the following picture of the area coverage of Chitral.

Unfortunately, latest figures on the above cited vital information is not available.
According to estimates of AKRSP in early 1980s less than 1% of the total area was estimated to be under agriculture. To meet some part of the shortfall in cereal crop production, several efforts by the NGOs and the irrigation department were made during this period.

These efforts contributed to further increase the cultivated area. There have been traditional efforts to turn any piece of land that could be irrigated, into agricultural land thus making the already fragile land vulnerable to slides, erosion and other kinds of land degradation.
A sound environment needs at least 25% forest coverage. Our forest coverage is abysmally low. Rangeland covers the major part but highly overused and trampled.

The 4.7% forest cover that existed in the southern part of the district at the turn of the century, must have been reduced further.
Some studies done in the past reveal that 100% rural and 94% urban dwellers are totally dependent on fuel-wood to meet their energy requirements. In upper Chitral, there is acute shortage of fuel-wood and the dependency on the southern forest is increasing with each passing day. The northern part of Chitral, that used to have juniper coverage, has now been turned into naked mountains and the plantation on the margins of agricultural land is now being ruthlessly cut for fuel-wood.
This situation is not only threatening for the precious traditional fruit trees, the poor people and herders uproot the non-wood bushes such as Artemisia and other numerous herbs to meet their immediate energy needs. The peat bogs are drying up in Broghil and other areas by excessive use for cooking and space heating. The overgrazing and trampling of the denuded land is causing serious soil erosion and scouring. In the southern part the remaining fuel-wood stock will soon be gone.
The global effects of the climate change is already being witnessed in Chitral more than other parts of the country. Rains and snowfall have become scanty and untimely and more aggressive when it pours. Temperatures are on the rise. Over melting of glaciers and resulting floods are seen with increased frequency and devastating effects on life and property. To name a few, the beautiful villages of Brep, Sonoghur, Booni, Muzhgol, Saht, Reshun, and many more have been devastated by the glacial melts occurring between 2005 to 2015 whereas 18000 houses were declared fully damaged by the government estimates during the earthquake in October 2015. These are staggering numbers to worry about.
Threats to our environment do not stop there. The population of Chitral is increasing at an alarming pace. The census carried out in 2017 records 2.32% growth per annum. It has quadrupled during the last half a century. The carrying capacity of the newly emerging townships in Drosh, Chitiral and Buni is too thin. Since Chitral is sitting on the fault line and already categorized as ‘Zone 4’, which is the most dangerous earthquake area. Most of the rural dwelling houses are adobe structures that cannot sustain the looming threats of jolts.
To add to this there are no effective rules to manage town planning and land use planning to guide and direct the course of actions.
Agricultural land is being used for construction and other non-agricultural activities causing land fragmentation, which in turn only adds to environmental degradation.

There is no proper system of solid and liquid waste disposal. The affluent from the service stations, butcher houses and poultry markets find their way into Chitral River. Polythene bags are flying over our houses with the wind and fall into where they find their way.
The affluent from Marble cuttings contains lead, which gets mixed with water and goes down the river. Clean drinking water is becoming scarce not only for the local inhabitants but we send this polluted gift to every human being living downstream. The people using the river water, mostly poor, become directly affected by the ailments associated with unsafe water.
These are all planning related aspects to be considered by our planners.
Unfortunately, people only wait and see what the concerned authorities do to stop the destruction. The DDMA and the PDMA usually remain short of funds or the skills. The public representatives only appear at the scene when floods have already played havoc, their job is to blame the concerned departments for their shortcomings.
This situation calls for emergency planning to save the land and the people of Chitral from the impending danger of destruction.
The nature of the problem is such that it can’t be controlled single handedly by any agency, it calls for collective action in that all the stakeholders must take part and be prepared to play their respective roles effectively.

The following are some indicative suggestions

Alternative sources of energy must be promoted such as establishing LPG filling stations at different locations to provide energy source on affordable and sustainable basis.
At the same time the ruthless cutting of the available timber wood must be stopped forthwith to save the remaining timber forest from further degradation. The local inhabitants applying for timber permit should be given license for the removal of windfall trees only with strict ban on cutting of standing trees. Export of timber must be banned. The tree tsunami of KP government must be continued with extra care for the survival of maximum trees.
This is high time that the district government allocates maximum budget to generate hydro-power in the locations where feasible. The NGOs working in Chitral need to join hands in this endeavor.
The NGOs need to direct their collective efforts on environmental awareness raising campaigns in schools and environmental walks in all the hub centers. This has become all the more necessary in the wake of the opening of Lowari Tunnel that carries huge environmental challenges.
FOCUS humanitarian assistance program is doing commendable job for preparing communities to deal with disaster events. We also need to learn lessons from the experiment of Sind Government where the Union Council Based Public Private Partnership model has been effective in poverty reduction in Shikarpur, Kashmore, Jacobabad and Tharparkar districts.
The University of Chitral will do well by teaching Environment and Bio Physics including affiliation with the University of Central Asia to benefit from mutual experience and knowledge sharing of the dynamics of mountain societies for sustainable development.
We are living near the roof of the world and from here we should be nice enough to care for our fellow beings living below the line. This is a call to human reason and intellect to wake up and behave in a responsible manner. The cost of caring for the earth may not be too big, if those in the corridors of power confront the environmental threats by diverting the financial resources available for development with sense and sensibility.
Our representatives in the district, provincial and national assemblies should now use their mandate and resources in the right direction. These representatives will do well by preparing a master plan with mutual consensus to be followed in letter and spirit.
For ready reference a nice piece of conceptual and academic work has already been done with support of the IUCN titled as ‘Chitral-Integrated Development Vision’ (IDV), this document has comprehensive coverage of problems and contains suggested strategy to be adopted at every step. The IDV was prepared after wide consultations with the communities across Chitral. The document was finally approved in a Roundtable Conference attended by all stakeholders including the communities of Chitral. What happened to this document can be well explained by the incumbent District Nazim Mr. Maghfirat Shah who was a moving spirit behind the compilation and approval process during his first term. This document only needs to be taken out of the shelves and updated with fresh statistics where necessary and may be a few additions in view of the current scenario.
I would like to request the Deputy Commissioner of Chitral to take it upon himself to read the ‘Chitral-An Integrated Development Vision’ copies of which can easily be had from Google search. This is a high time especially because the budget for 2018-19 is at the doorstep.

(The writer is rural development practitioner and has headed a number of private sector organizations in Chitral and other areas of Pakistan).

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  1. Javaid Ahmad Awi says

    I have had the privilege to be one of the ‘apprentices’ of Shah Karez sahib for a period of time spanning more than six years, until his most recent retirement,and I have been one of the lucky ones with whom Shah Karez sahib would discuss all the contemporary issues including the environmental challenges – from local to global contexts. And as such, we have been the prime beneficiaries of the many facets of his grand scholarship.
    In this article the learned author has proved his mettle to be an environmentalist par excellence. The article has to be republished in national news sites as well.
    There is an inverse relationship between energy consumption and environmental degradation universally: The more we conserve energy and power resources the more we help heal the Earth itself. And at the base of the problem lies the menace of population explosion which has been occurring since the agricultural revolution as well as with the antibiotics discovery and immunization globally. It is said that the world population had always remained below one billion until the mid 19th century largely due to natural checks and balances.
    The chief protracted environmental issues in Chitral and elsewhere have been due to the lack of will for environmental management and there is nothing like a free lunch in this world: Obviously environmental considerations will cost money and funding prioritization at the government level. If the carbon credit system and environmental CSR are effectively enforced it will help halt the degradtion eventually.
    The environmental toll has been and would be huge if we continue treading on the path of sole rampant commercialization. Vegetation is the lungs absornent of carbon and our very instantaneous existence depends upon the atmospheric gaseous balance. And once it’s perturbed wouldn’t be royal to curb for millennia or so.

  2. Noor Shahidin says

    Indeed the ideas in this post indicate about one of the contemporary serious issue.If we are a literate civil society and moving towards positive stage then we have to deal with it in a scientific way. Otherwise, inventing a lie after a loss would be a part of our habit. I assume the IDV report has covered human population growth and its affect on the environmental degradation as well. Developmental history tells us that there is a strong positive relationship between these two as more people demand more resources that directly affects the natural environment.

  3. Saqib Azam says

    A very informative piece of writing sir!
    Being the student of town planning I understand the need of comprehensive Master plan for our district along with all other environmental considerations you discussed.
    Every year the final year students of our department i.e City and Regional Planning Department of UET Lahore prepare master plan of a district as a compulsory final year project,recently the master plan of Haripur is prepared.
    I am thinking to convince our department to select Chitral as next district.
    How will the District Adminstration be convinced in this regard?Or what other suggestions should be taken into account?

  4. Dr. Khalil says

    پرائ شادی میں عبدللہ دیوانہ .. جنگل جہاں ہیں یہ ان لوگوں کا مسلح ہے .. چرووں اور شاہ بلوط کا اپس میں کوئی رشتہ ؟؟

    1. Fida Mohammad says

      Dear Dr. Khalil, I beg to disagree with your comment which sound very selfish. Unlike some people who cannot think beyond their own “self”, own “house” and own “village”, the learned writer (Mr. Shah Karez) is concerned about the entire Chitral. As a professional and expert, he is concerned about the entire Chitral – not just Charun. It does not matter, where the “ShahBaloot” is, if the environment is degraded and polluted, all of us will be effected by it. The learned writer,based on his wealth of knowledge and rich experience, has made very wise and timely recommendations for the concerned authorities and people of Chitral to do something to save the environment, before it is too late.

  5. Shehla says

    A very well write up highlighting main causes of enviromental degradation. Very informative indeed.

  6. Aziz Ali Khan says

    A well and on time write up on environmental degradation, potential threats to rural livelihoods and sustenance of mountain communities and some of the key developmental issues and challanges in Chitral. In the current scanario of rapid climate change it is very pertinent and important that all relevant institutions and organizations as well as the communities work together in a holistic manner towards conservation and better management of available environmental resources for the present and future generations of Chitral.

    Yes, Chitral districts is one of the few districts in Pakistan having its road map in the form of an integrated development vision (IDV) approved and adopted by the Zilla Council earlier. The Chitral IDV was developed after thorough consultations with all communities, women groups and minorities in the districts and commissioning studies on thematic areas including agriculture, water, forest, biodiversity,environment, tourism and mineral resources etc by engaging national level technical experts by the world conservation union (IUCN) Chitral and the only thing is its implementation in true letter and spirit.

  7. Nasima says

    An educative and timely contribution from a well reputed social scientist for environmental sustainability of Chitral. It is high time for all of us, our policy makers, NGOs and all other stakeholders to recognize the intensity of the issue and play our due role to revert the situation before it is too late.

  8. Muhammad Karam says

    The publication of the article on burning issue is very timely. It is a big effort towards a big cause. All the stakeholders should sit together for implementing the suggestions mentioned in the article.

  9. Sadrud Din says

    Very well written and indeed article from a rural specialsit who had been part of many orginization which have worked on enviroment can be high importance for making planns and execution stratagies to save further degredarion of enviroment.

  10. shamim kalash says

    Very well-articulated and an eye opener article about the environmental threats in Chitral in particular and in general across Pakistan. Even if any of the following indicative suggestions are bring into action it will contribute a lot to environmental degradation. Kudos to Shah Sb.

  11. Aftab says

    This piece is an eye opener for every individual and the concerned authorities. Our vigilance for the protection of our environment today will determine our future in the area. Indeed, its a now or never situation for the district.

  12. Markhor says

    Very well written, keep striving for our future.

  13. Abdullah Jan says

    A comprehensive article please keep in touch

  14. Zain Ul Muluk says

    A very well written article, highlighting a very crucial issue of the entire district with very valid suggestions. Every citizen and institution should play vital role in this regard.

  15. Adnan Zainul Abideen says

    Highly valuable write up, really an eye opener for all the stakeholders. Shah sb, Pl keep it up.

  16. Shahkarez says

    Dear Saleh, you can use my article with reference for purely academic exercise.

    1. Saleh says

      Ok sir, many thanks. Highly appreciated for your permission.

  17. Saleh says

    Thanks you Sir, I was looking for such an analysis and with your permission may use it for my thesis preparation.

  18. Javed Karim says


  19. Sher Karim Khan says

    A comprehensive and well-written article on the issue of environmental degradation in Chitral. Shah Karez sab has a vast experience of work in the NGO sector; and his apprehensions expressed in this piece reflect the gloomy picture of the impending threats posed by the degradation of the environment. It’s high time all the stakeholders put in their their best to save the environment for the generations to come. Kudos to Shah sab!

  20. Rehmat says

    Worth written sir

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