ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee on Tuesday criticised the federal government and the governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for an unprecedented number of fires this summer.

Senator Sitara Ayaz, chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change, said uncontrolled and frequent fires in KP, Punjab and the Margalla Hills have wreaked havoc.

“Forest fires engulfed some jungles for the first time,” she said.

Committee discusses fires in KP, Murree and Margalla Hills this summer

The committee discussed the reasons for the frequent fires in KP, Murree and the Margalla Hills National Park, blaming the federal and provincial governments for not putting in enough effort to prevent and fight fires every year.

Members said that huge fires had devoured old trees, while the government’s primary focus was increasing tree cover to mitigate the effects of climate change.

KP Chief Conservator Azhar Ali Khan told senators that there were natural, accidental and deliberate fires. He claimed most of the fires were deliberately set by pyromaniacs who enjoyed watching forests burn down.

He said the law, made during British rule, bound local communities to assist fire departments in fighting fires and finding those responsible.

“Villagers in the vicinity used to help, but not anymore. The topography of the land is harsh and firefighters cannot reach easily,” he added.

He said that seven firefighters had died last year and two this year.

A forest conservator from Murree attributed this year’s forest fires to high temperatures due to a prolonged dry season.

In addition to centuries old firefighting methods, the committee was also informed of the ineffectiveness of hiring helicopters, which are also very expensive.

The lack of coordination between concerned departments was also mentioned as a major reason for delays in putting out fires.

The committee also took up the decrease in greenbelts at the cost of developing roads.

An official from the Capital Development Authority (CDA) told members that the greenbelts they see today were earmarked for roads in the city’s master plan.

To a question, CDA Chairman Amer Ali Ahmed told senators about plans to move slums out of the city to suitable locations with a proper transportation system. He said some 3,000 to 4,000 housing units will be required to resettle residents of recognised slums in the capital.

He also shared plans to develop parking spaces in F-6, F-8 and F-10, for which the CDA now has sufficient funds.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2019