ISLAMABAD: Climate Change Minister Mushahidullah Khan on Sunday urged the federal and provincial forest officials to boost urban forestry to protect cities from heat waves and against becoming heat islands.

During a briefing with the media, the minister said: “Planting trees in urban centres must be made an integral part of the seasonal monsoon and spring tree plantation campaigns to tackle heat waves in urban areas that cost both lives and people’s livelihoods.”

The minister said forestry was the most viable and cheapest way to protect Pakistan’s urban areas from becoming heat islands.

Planting trees in urban centres must be made an integral part of the seasonal tree plantation campaigns, says minister

“Our cities and towns have now become hotter than their adjoining or nearby rural areas at the cost of development. Increasing the green areas and planting more trees in the cities and towns is the most effective and cheapest way to cope with the heat island effect that poses risk to lives and livelihoods in urban centres,” said Mr Khan who joined his office on Friday as the new minister.

An urban heat island effect is described as an urban or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities.

Quoting a study of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the minister said planting trees in urban areas could help cool the temperature between two to eight degrees Celsius. This would help cut by over 30pc the use of air conditioners which also contributes to urban warming.

Counting the key causes of the heat island effect, he said the removal of green areas, rapid rise in motor vehicles, soaring building construction activities, modification of land surfaces, emission of heat from air conditioning units and encroachment on natural waterways or rainwater drains had converted the urban centres into heat islands, making them unlivable.

“But it makes us sad that most of the natural waterways and streams have been encroached upon in connivance with civil and municipal authorities,” he added.

Talking about numerous benefits of urban forestry, he said: “Trees with widely spread thick canopy, when placed strategically, can help improve urban air quality by filtering it, remove heat-trapping carbon dioxide from urban atmosphere and increase amount of the oxygen in it for improved public health.”

The minister pointed out that stress and blood pressure were major ailments found among urban dwellers. However, these public health issues can also be significantly mitigated with the help of growth in urban trees.

“Health and environment experts have already proved that spending time near trees improves the physical and mental health by increasing energy level and speed of recovery besides decreasing blood pressure and stress,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2017