CHITRAL: The beneficiaries of Chitral Gol National Park have feared that the climate change ministry’s apathy towards the park’s conservation will cause depopulation of Kashmir markhor, felling of deodar trees, and disintegration of custodian communities.

Notified in 1984, the national park has the largest number of markhors in the country.

Spread over 7,777 hectares, it was upgraded by the World Bank in 2003 along with national parks in Machhiara (AJK) and Hingol (Balochistan).

At the end of the five-year project, an endowment fund of Rs220 million was created by the World Bank to integrate custodian communities into park management ensure sustainability.

The ministry has set up the Fund for Protected Areas, an organisation for the management of the endowment fund. However, its financial powers are held by the ministry rendering the organisation redundant. The inspector general of forests is its ex-officio chief executive officer.

Hussain Ahmad, a former president of the umbrella organisation for eleven villages of the park, told Dawn that it was unfortunate that the climate change ministry had never released funds for the communities though it was due every year.

Beneficiaries demand SC intervention for park conservation

He also regretted that as no trophy hunting was carried out in the national park, the endowment fund was the only source of income for communities to manage the area and derive collective monetary benefits in lieu of their rights of grazing, cultivation and collection of wood and fodder, which they had surrendered for the park.

Mr Ahmad said around 30 community watchers were hired for the ‘watch and ward’ of the park, who were paid salary from the endowment fund. He, however, said the payment of salaries on a regular basis wasn’t possible as the ministry and FPA manipulated the release of funds to the community.

A leading conservationist based in Chitral told Dawn that the organisation of park custodian communities was a time-consuming and tedious exercise that made every member of the community a guard of the pasture.

He feared that delay in the release of funds would force those communities to shun conservation work and restart poaching and cutting down trees and if that happened, the markhor population in the park would be under threat and the region could be hit by flash floods.

Alamzeb advocate, the chairman of Park Management Association, the umbrella organisation of 11 VCCs, said the community had pinned high hopes on the premier’s aide on climate change, Malik Amin Aslam, after he visited Chitral and promised communities the early release of funds.

He regretted that the ministry blocked the funds’ release as its joint secretary and acting IGF didn’t attend the FPA meeting on Dec 28 for mandatory approval to it.

He demanded of the Supreme Court chief justice to take a suo moto notice of the situation to prevent the irreversible damage to the national park conservation efforts.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2021

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