ISLAMABAD: More than 100 university students and nature lovers on Sunday participated in a hiking and cleanup drive on Margalla Hills Trail-5 despite an inclement weather.

The event was organised by Devcom-Pakistan in collaboration with the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB), a subordinate organisation of the Ministry of Climate Change, Gym Club of Quaid-i-Azam University, CS Adventure Club of Comsats University, Westminster Academy and Rawalpindi Women University.

Before the walk and cleanup, IWMB Assistant Director Sakhawat Ali briefed the participants about biological diversity and natural heritage of Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP).

He said MHNP was established in 1980 and is the third largest national park in the world with an area of 17,386 hectares (42,960 acres) and is in the foothills of the Himalaya mountains. Tilla Charouni with a height of 1,604 metres is the tallest peak in the park. The park is rich in biodiversity, especially in Sino-Himalayan fauna, most notably gray goral, barking deer and the leopard. MHNP is home to around 600 plant species, 402 bird varieties, 38 mammals and 27 species of reptiles.

He said under the new management, recently the IWMB has taken steps for protection of the park and visitors. Many cases of woodcutting and forest fires were averted. The renovated IWMB Nature Education Centre is the hub of activities and awareness raising sessions.

Pakistan’s young rising face of hardcore mountaineering Sirbaz Khan and former deputy mayor of Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) Zeshan Naqvi were also present. Well-known mountaineer Nazir Sabir was chief guest at the certificate distribution ceremony.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Sabir said mountaineering had become very technical and challenging in the changing climate.

“Unpredictable harsh weather has made this an increasingly expensive sport. Many corporations are coming up globally to support their mountaineers except Pakistan. Many vibrant strategies are dusting in the public shelves. We need to get them out and launch them with a proactive action agenda to develop a team of skilful mountaineers and to mainstream Pakistan’s mountaineering facilities that have no match worldwide,” he said.

He said Prime Minister Imran Khan should form a task force of 8-10 leading mountaineers and people promoting Pakistan’s mountains to translate challenges into opportunities.

Mr Khan said unfortunately mountaineering was not on priority of the government while mountains were under threat from housing and timber mafia.

“We hardly see action against them. The government should opt for a strategy to promote and mainstream mountaineering and engage young enthusiasts,” he said.

Mr Nqvi said Islamabad has multiple places that can attract youth engagement and we can host youth and nature lovers from other cities and countries.

The authorities should proactively pursue an action plan in this regard.

Devcom-Pakistan Executive Director Munir Ahmed said: “We encourage youth for outdoor pursuits. It is good for their mental and physical health besides making them a responsible visitor to nature.”

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2021

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