ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid on Wednesday said that all provinces are working on finalising policies and measures for forestation at a national level, reported Radio Pakistan.

"The government is preparing a comprehensive National Forest Policy to curb deforestation and increase the land covered by forests," he stated while addressing members of the National Assembly.

According to Hamid, the draft policy is currently in its final state of consultation, and a revised version of the draft will be presented before the Council of Common Interests (CCI) at its next session.

Zahid Hamid said that on the direction of the prime minister, the ministry is actively engaging with all provinces— including Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Capital Development Authority (CDA) — to finalise forestation measures at the national level.

Government efforts not enough

Pakistan's forest cover— the percentage of land covered by trees— is decreasing at an alarming rate, Dawn reported earlier.

Massive deforestation started in the 1990s as remote areas opened up with the construction of roads, and it has not ceased. The greatest victims are the conifer forests in the Himalayan belt where trees are cut and sold to contractors (part of the notorious timber mafia).

Even the amount of forest cover in the country has been under dispute. According to the Pakistan Forest Institute in Peshawar, the percentage of forests in the country is 5.02 per cent. Others estimate it is as low as 3.4pc. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) marks it even lower, at 2.2pc. According to the FAO, Pakistan loses at least 42,000 hectares of forests each year.

Pakistan also has the second largest concentration of Juniper forests in the world, most of which in the northern and western parts of the country have been destroyed. Regrowing the trees could take a few hundred years.

Out of the 400 million saplings planted in Pakistan over the past five years, only 50pc have survived, according to Secretary of the Ministry of Climate Change Arif Ahmed Khan.

While international environmental bodies recommend that Pakistan maintain 12pc of its forest cover, the country's soil and weather conditions are not feasible for such a goal. Khan earlier told the Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change that seven to eight per cent cover was a more realistic goal— and even that, with a lot of hard work.

Khan said that Pakistan first needed to stop destructing its forests before working on expanding them. He added, "Provincial governments should look after the forests in their areas and severe punishments should be imposed on those harming wooded areas.”

Khan felt that government departments had largely failed in efforts to increase forest cover, and urged private organisations to step in to help. The secretary stressed on the importance of bringing together public and private sectors in increasing green areas.

Also read: Developed countries more responsible for tackling climate change, says Nawaz

According to Khan, the National Forest Policy will not only focus on the expansion of forests. “It is a comprehensive document which addresses the overall ecological setting of the country and the conservation of wild life. It makes different communities come together to bring an end to deforestation," he said.

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