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ISLAMABAD: ‘Guzara’ forests in the Rawalpindi region are facing survival concerns as their owners are no longer taking interest in their maintenance and protection.

This was stated by Divisional Forest Officer (Guzara forests) Asad Ali while briefing mediapersons in Murree.

Guzara forests are those that are owned by individuals but managed jointly by the local communities and the forest department.

In the Rawalpindi district, state-owned forests spread over 117,000 acres while Guzara (private) forests cover 1,68,000 acres.

Most owners have migrated to urban areas leaving behind forests without caretakers, says official

The media briefing was organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

Mr Ali highlighted reasons behind the lack of care being taken for the Guzara forests such as no plantation campaigns. He said most of the owners had migrated to urban areas and there was no one to take care of the forests.

On the other hand, the DFO said the state had its own limitations to deal with the forests. He said in 1881 when the British rulers wanted to take control of private forests the local people resisted the move saying they were their Guzaras (sources of livelihood).

The DFO later told Dawn that there were 54 sanctioned posts of forest guards in the Rawalpindi region but a majority of them were vacant. He, however, said state-owned forests in various tehsils had seen an increase of trees since 1980. “There is no serious threat to the state-owned forests,” he said

DFO Rawalpindi Iftikharul Haq Farooqi on the occasion shed lights on the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)-plus project. He said it was an important project for Pakistan and there was a need for adopting a proper implementation strategy to achieve all the goals envisaged under it.

The preparedness phase of REDD-plus for Pakistan is a joint initiative of the Climate Change Division and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development.

Under this project, communities which depend on forest wood for fuel are paid to spare the trees in order to curb deforestation. However, local communities are still unaware of the initiatives.

During a visit to a Guzara forest in Murree, when journalists asked a forest guard about the REDD-plus initiative, he said: “I don’t know anything about it.”

Pakistan signed the REDD-plus readiness grant from the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility in 2015 under which it would get $3.8 million for the implementation of the activities.

Earlier, DFO Mr Farooqi said energy and industry sectors in Pakistan were major contributors of the green gas emissions than the tree cutting phenomenon. He said Pakistan contributed only 0.8pc of the total green house gas emissions but the country was ranked seventh among countries most vulnerable to climate changes. “That’s why we were picked for REDD-plus initiative,” he said.

“Communities in Murree are dependent on Guzara forests for their livelihood. These communities should be given awareness about afforestation.

There is a need for capacity building of both communities and the forest department,” said Maryam Shabbir, a researcher.

SDPI director Moazzam Bhatti and Juanid Zaid briefed the mediapersons about the importance of REDD-plus and the benefits associated with it for Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2018