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Decades needed to restore trees lost in fire: national park official

Updated June 03, 2018

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Civil society activists protest outside the National Press Club on Saturday, calling on the city’s civic agency to protect the Margalla Hills from fire. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Civil society activists protest outside the National Press Club on Saturday, calling on the city’s civic agency to protect the Margalla Hills from fire. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: It will take decades to restore the trees that burned in the fire that erupted in the Margalla Hills a few days ago.

Zahir Khan, the protection in-charge of the Margalla Hills National Park – a chunk of which was destroyed in the fire – told Dawn hundreds of trees burned in the fire.

“A pine tree takes over 30 years to grow 30 feet. Hundreds of trees, including pines, were destroyed in the accident,” he said.

A case has been registered with the Kohsar police against unidentified individuals for causing the fire, in response to a complaint lodged by Anib Ahmed, the additional supervisor at the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board.

The FIR said the board had foiled previous attempted by unidentified individuals had tried to set fire to the hills, but two people on a motorcycle had set fire to the park near Talhar Mor on Daman-i-Koh Road.

Mr Ahmed said he saw the two individuals set the park on fire, and then continue to set fire to various localities as they left the area, according to the FIR.

Activists protest authorities’ lack of action after fire broke out

When asked about the identities of those involved in the fire, Mr Khan from the national park said the main suspects were the timber mafia and hunters.

“They used to set the park on fire between April 15 and July 15, when the temperature increased,” he said. He alleged that hunters and the timber mafia set the park on fire in revenge for the challenges officials pose to their activities in the park.

He added that firefighters were hired by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) during this period, and it had been decided that locals would now be hired as firefighters, as they know the hills and routes, instead of relying on political appointees.

Mr Khan alleged that people who were denied the job this year “despite having political recommendations” were behind the fire. He said the CDA has once again offered jobs to firefighters who had previously gotten them through political recommendations.

Meanwhile, environmental activists and Islamabad residents gathered outside the National Press Club on Saturday to protest the recent fire in the Margalla Hills National Park.

They alleged that the fires did have natural causes and expressed disappointment that the authorities had not made any moves for nearly a week after the fire broke out.

Tasadduq Malik, a volunteer who began a campaign to clean the national park, said he had photographs and other evidence that trees are deliberately torched every year.

He said Islamabad’s national park was as beautiful as any national park around the world, and steps should be taken to ensure no one damages the area, particularly the Margalla Hills.

“Unfortunately, here the rulers are not taking any interest in the conservation of forests. We have to save our forests,” he said.

Ali Naqvi said it was strange that the fire could not be extinguished for 10 days.

“A helicopter was deputed to put out the fire after a week, but by that time the damage was done. I suggest more trees should be planted because that is the only way to recover the loss. Moreover, it should be ensured that such incidents are not repeated in the future,” he said.

“More guards should be deputed to ensure that no one chops down trees, because first the trees are cut and then the area is torched to cover up the criminal act,” said Munir Ahmed, who works on the environment. He said things had deteriorated since the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) was established.

If steps are not taken to stop these fires, he said concerned citizens would hold a sit-in outside the offices of the MCI and CDA.

Mr Ahmed said trees should be planted and check dams should be constructed to ensure forests are protected. Check dams are small, sometimes temporary dams built across a swale, drainage ditch or waterway to counteract erosion by reducing the speed of the flow of water.

Other participants demanded that helicopters should be available to put out fires as soon as they break out.

The protesters shouted slogans against the mayor and criticised him for remaining unmoved in the face of the fire. One of the protesters carried a placard that stated: “Defend our trees from fire as we defend our borders from enemies.”

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2018