THE current floods could be a boon for Sindh’s depleting riverine forests, which are dependent either on flood waters or on fresh supplies from the Indus.
A significant portion of the forests has been lost as low-income communities living in katcha areas cut trees virtually unchecked to use wood as a source of fuel and livelihood.
Officials consider the current flood waters insufficient for submerging the entire riverine forest area, which stretches over 600,000 acres on both sides of the Indus between Guddu and Kotri barrages.
Estimated high flows of 700,000 to 800,000 cusecs downstream in Guddu during floods are needed for reforestation in the riverine areas. But Sindh’s barrages are now having low to medium flood levels.
Taking advantage of the current flows, however, the provincial forest authority has decided to go for the regeneration of forests in inundated areas. Around 40,000 acres of riverine forest area is likely to submerge as a result of the present floods.
The drive for the regeneration of forests would cover Raunti, Old Gublo, Keti Shah, Keti Abad, Bagar Ji forests — located between downstream Guddu and upstream Sukkur— and Bhaunr, Kundha, Matiari and Miani forests between the Sukkur and Kotri reaches. Similarly, sites of Veeran and Marho riverine forests downstream in Kotri would also be covered.
The Sindh forest department has decided to go for a regeneration of forests in inundated riverine areas. Around 40,000 acres of forest area is likely to submerge in water as a result of the present floods
The process would begin when flood water starts receding from the katcha areas within two weeks. Around 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes of seed of different species would be thrown during mid-abkalani and post-abkalani. About 90pc of reforestation would take place in mid-abkalani (in the current phase of flood), as only 10pc is earmarked for post-abkalani (floodwater recedes from katcha area to reach the sea).
However, the uphill task, according to Sindh Forests’ Chief Conservator Riaz Wagan, would be the protection of these sites for forest regeneration, as poor local communities encroach these post-flood fertile lands for cultivation. “We face tremendous political pressure while we try to stop encroachment,” he adds.
The forest department’s official website describes riverine forests as the most productive in Sindh for wood material for domestic and commercial use. Experts, however, say from 1979 to 2009, large swathes of Indus basin forests were used for agricultural purposes. During this period, forests depleted at 9pc per annum.
The forest policy 2005 allowed leasing riverine forest land with the condition that 25pc of the allotted land would be used by farmers for growing forests and the remaining could be used for crop cultivation. A retired conservator of forests, Ghulam Rasool Keerio, however, says the policy’s objectives were not achieved due to the forest department’s weak oversight, in addition to political influences.
Subsequently, the 25pc ratio for forest plantation was reduced to 20pc. “But this policy is followed by 30pc of lessees as the rest of the 70pc don’t abide by it,” Wagan remarked. He added that the forest department faces litigation from lessees at different levels where the leases are withdrawn.
Besides maintaining a natural ecosystem — wildlife, deforestation and vegetation — the riverine forests serve as a natural barrier against river dykes, avert soil erosion and break up the speed of flood waters, which do not directly hit main embankments on both sides of the River Indus and minimise the chances of breaches.
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, September 29th, 2014