ISLAMABAD: Forests being cut in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir territory by the timber mafia will bring the looming water crisis in the region nearer, warned an official of the territory.

“Every year the criminal activity adds 5,000 acres of barren land to the 500,000 acres already denuded of trees,” Farhat Ali Mir, Secretary Forest, Wildlife and Fisheries, told Dawn on Sunday.

Last week, the official met Federal Minister for Climate Change Mushahidullah Khan to seek help in saving the AJK forests which are the lifeline of Pakistan’s water cycle.

Mir highlighted the gravity of the situation by saying that trees were being cut indiscriminately for money by the mafia and for fuel by the locals, with no rejuvenation programme at present.

Even trees 200 to 400 years old have been felled, he said.

“In the regeneration exercises in the past, we had 57 per cent success rate. That means it can take anywhere between 55 and 150 years for trees such as Conifers, Deodar and Pines to grow back in the region,” he added.

For 23 years after independence, trees in the territory were only cut. Not a single sapling was planted until 1970 when regeneration schemes were introduced.

Development and commercial activities for a growing population, such as mining for minerals and construction of roads, cut deeper into the forest areas, degrading the natural green cover in the mountains of AJK.

An average household in AJK consumes three trees for maintenance such as fixing roofs and for fuel.

“Deforestation took a toll of more than 60 natural lakes in Rata Valley alone,” said the Secretary Forest, AJK. They should have been better developed for eco-tourism.

Mir described the deforestation in Neelum Valley, and especially Rata Valley, as “unprecedented”, warning that if such development were not banned immediately, the area will eventually become “filthy like the Lake Saiful Maluk”.

Deforestation also cause landslides, flash floods and avalanches, eventually increase silting in dams downstream.

Minister for Climate Change Mushahidullah Khan told the AJK official that he understood how forests were fast depleting, not just in AJK but also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“We have to start with awareness first, telling people that cutting trees is the worst of all violations and the federal government will make efforts to declare all water bodies protected under law,” said Mushahidullah Khan as he assured that the federal government would intervene to save the forests that regulate the country’s water cycle.

“Luckily the 18th Amendment is not applicable in AJK and the Centre can still intervene there to save environment. We will get directions from the Prime Minister if we have to in this case,” he added.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2015

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