LANDI KOTAL: With the rehabilitation activity gaining momentum in Tirah valley of Khyber Agency, the forests in the picturesque area face serious threat owing to cutting of trees by local residents both for reconstruction of their damaged houses and smuggling the precious timber to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces.
A survey conducted by Fata Disaster Management Authority with the assistance of some donor agencies last year said that around 14,000 (80 per cent) houses in Bagh-Maidan and surrounding localities of the valley were in urgent need of reconstruction as most of those were without roofs.
Local residents told Dawn that they used timber of the local forest to cover roofs of their houses which they had built decades ago. They said that Taliban torched the houses of most of their opponent while fleeing the valley after the start of military operation early last year. They also took along precious timber worth millions of rupees which was used in rooftops, windows and doors of thousands of houses.
The government had pledged to provide every family with Rs400,000 for reconstruction of completely destroyed house and Rs100,000 for partially damaged one but keeping in view the high cost of construction in the valley the amount would be enough for reconstruction of just a single room, Ali Akbar, a resident of Zakhakhel, told Dawn.
Local people say forests are being cut for reconstruction of houses and smuggling of timber
He said that all the construction material was transported from Peshawar, Kohat and Hangu via Haider Kandaw Pass. He added that most of the people were relying on the timber of the local forest to provide shelter to their families. He, however, said that every local tribe had formed village committees to keep a check on illegal cutting of local forest and allow cutting of trees according to the mutually agreed quota.
Mr Akbar said that provision of free galvanised iron sheets and poplar timber from the settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even parts of Fata on subsidised rates for reconstruction of their damaged roofs could considerably ease pressure on local forest.
Said Zameer, another resident of Bagh, told Dawn that despite formation of local village committees, large number of trees were felled on daily basis as the timber was smuggled to Peshawar and parts of Punjab province.
The timber merchants in Kukikhel area of Tirah valley also alleged that timber worth million of rupees was ‘stolen’ from the warehouses in Mehraban Kallay and smuggled to Peshawar. They claimed that they were able to spot the stolen timber in the markets of Peshawar.
The timber merchants in Mehraban Kallay including Haji Kitab Shah, Khanimullah, Akhtar Mohammad and Anar Jan told Dawn in Jamrud that unidentified gunmen had stolen timber from there warehouses despite the fact that the area was still under the control of security forces. They wondered as to how the smugglers managed to take the stolen timber out the area, which was under the control of army.
They said that prices of timber used in construction had increased manifold both in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab owing to the steps taken by the government to control forest cutting and timber smuggling.
The resident of Sheen Kamar area of Bara told this scribe by phone that a group of Zaodin-Zakhakhel and Sipah tribe had been busy in illegal cutting of local forest for the last three years. They said that two to three trucks loaded with forest wood were being smuggled out of the area every week despite the fact that security forces were stationed in Sheen Kamar.
They said that they had lodged several complaints with the officials of political administration and security forces, demanding a ban on illegal cutting of forest in Sheen Kamar, but to no avail.
Situation in Jhut Darra, Eggo Mela, Wouch Naw and Taju localities of Qambarkhel tribe in Tirah was no different as timber smugglers had been cutting local forests for the last two years, sources said.
Wajid Khan, a local tribesman, told Dawn that around 1,200 Qambarkhel families had to leave their homes about three years ago when Taliban took control of Tirah valley. They were residing in Saddar and surrounding localities of Kurram Agency, he added.
He said that most of the displaced families were sent back to their homes in Tirah after restoration of peace but the residents of the four localities situated near Zarra Mela on border with the Kurram Agency were still awaiting their return as the security forces had not yet de-notified those areas.
He alleged that taking advantage of their long absence, residents of some bordering villages of Masuzai tribe of Kurram Agency had started stealing timber from their forest. He said that the elders of his tribe had requested the local commanders of security forces to allow them to prevent the cutting of their forest but they were not allowed to go back to their homes to protect their precious forest.
Sher Nawaz Khan, the director of Forests Fata, when contacted, said that no law existed in Fata that could prevent illegal cutting of forest. He said that his department was holding jirgas with local elders to persuade them to stop forest cutting. “This is the maximum we can do as the forest laws are not yet extended to Fata,” he added.
Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2015