ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan continues to be among the countries most at risk from the effects of climate change, the forests in its capital city are witnessing fires amid allegations of organisational rivalry and villagers doing it on purpose to get firefighting jobs. Some youngsters are even doing it for fun to get social media fame.

Such incidents are happening under the nose of the Capital Development Autho­rity (CDA) and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) and both organisations seemed to have no clue about the latest deliberate fire incidents until videos surfaced on social media recently.

A screen grab from a viral video that purportedly shows two youths setting fires in the Margalla Hills. Officials say they are still looking for the duo.
A screen grab from a viral video that purportedly shows two youths setting fires in the Margalla Hills. Officials say they are still looking for the duo.

One video shows two young TikTokers setting the forest ablaze with a lighter on Margalla Hills. Another video that went viral on social media showed a model and TikToker named Doli performing in front of a fire in a forest, which has yet to be identified but is believed to be in Kahuta or Islamabad.

Earlier, another TikToker set the woods on fire in Abbottabad and was taken into custody by wildlife officials.

The incidents immediately drew widespread criticism and anger.

“This deliberate fire attempt is a criminal act. It’s also on the part of the authorities concerned,” said Professor Dr Mohammad Irfan, who teaches at International Islamic University Islamabad. “This kind of fun fire can all over the forest, leading to severe consequences.”

He said it was high time all stakeholders — the government, its departments and the public — started to consider environment a major issue for the country.

“Margalla Hills face fires every year, but the relevant authorities seem to be least bothered about conserving and protecting biodiversity,” he said. “The world is celebrating International Day for Biological Diversity [on May 22] and look at the level of the awareness of our youth … they are setting forests on fire for fun.”

The CDA, apparently after facing criticism on social media, later filed an application with Kohsar police station against Doli, seeking an investigation into the matter and legal action against the model. However, no application has been filed against the two youngsters.

Spread over 31,000 acres, the Margalla Hills National Park witnesses several fire incidents every year during summer, adversely affecting both trees and animals. During the current season, two major fires broke out on Sunday and Monday in Saidpur range and Chinari area of Margallas.

The CDA and IWMB make announcements every year to set up pickets and deploy forest guards for patrolling to prevent fire incidents, but fires have become a yearly occurrence.

Every year, the CDA gave temporary firefighting jobs to the villagers during the fire season and it seemed those who could not get employment deliberately set the forests on fire.

The CDA and IWMB have locked horns in the past over the control of the Margalla Hills National Park and there are also concerns that their staffers might be involved in fire incidents — a charge both organisations deny.

However, IWMB chairperson Rina Saeed Khan insisted that both departments were on the same page this time around.

“There are no more differences among us [CDA and IWMB]. In February, we held a joint meeting and now working for fire prevention,” she said.

By utilising available resources, “we are working efficiently. Our guards and staff [comprising around 70 members] are performing duties dedicatedly”, she said and acknowledged that 90pc fire incidents are manmade and deliberate.

About the viral videos, one youngster in the video had been identified as a resident of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the provincial police. “CDA and IWMB are in touch with KP police. One of the accused has been identified and soon will be arrested. We are checking if the fire incident took place in Islamabad’s limit or in the KP area,” she said and added that action would be taken against both youngsters.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2022

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