Forests are incredibly important for our survival and well-being. They provide us with the air we breathe and the wood we use and offer habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans.
Additionally, forests play a crucial role in protecting watersheds, preventing soil erosion, and mitigating the effects of climate change. In fact, climate change is the biggest threat our country faces today, and even though Pakistan only contributes one per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is still considered the 5th most vulnerable country to its effects. Despite our dependence on forests, we are allowing them to disappear at an alarming rate.
In recent years, Pakistan has suffered from natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and cyclones. However, the monsoon season in 2022 surpassed all previous destruction records on every scale. Heavy rainfall led to severe floods, landslides, and urban flooding, displacing 33 million people and causing over 1,730 deaths.
The floods affected all the provinces, impacting about 15pc of the population. The damages were widespread, with houses, roads, bridges, and rail networks being washed away. The government estimated the total damage to be more than $30 billion.
As the temperature in Islamabad rises above 40°C in May and June, the incidents of fire in and around the city have significantly increased. The primary cause of these fires is the drought and high temperatures, harming trees and animals. Recently, there was a fire outbreak at the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST) in Sector H-12, Islamabad, which is a cause for serious concern.
These fires have adverse effects not only on the infrastructure but also on the socio-economic and environmental conditions of the region. It is crucial to address this issue to prevent further damage.
In recent years, many people have moved to cities in search of better living conditions, job opportunities, and access to education. Islamabad is no exception, attracting migrants from all over the country.
To accommodate the growing population, the city must build new infrastructure such as roads, schools, buildings, and housing societies. The city covers an area of 906 square kilometres and has experienced a 100pc increase in population over the last 20 years, making it difficult to monitor its resources and provide the necessary services to the public.
The Image Analysis Lab, which operates under the School of Interdisciplinary Engineering and Sciences at NUST, has conducted research using Artificial Intelligence techniques on satellite imagery to monitor the resources of Islamabad city.
The research shows that the green area of Islamabad in 2000 was 656sq-km with a water body of 7.09sq-km, barren land of 183sq-km, and a build-up area of 60sq-km.
However, in 2020, the green area was reduced to 420sq-km, representing a 36pc reduction in the last two decades. The water body also decreased to 6.38sq-km (decline of 0.71sq-km), which is approximately a 10pc reduction. Barren land fell to 100sq-km, a total decrease of 45pc from 2000.
The research reveals a significant concern in the 523pc increase in build-up area (from 60sq-km to 374sq-km), representing a massive increase in commercial and domestic land use.
The local government has implemented initiatives such as the Miyawaki forestation project to combat this issue. While this is a commendable effort, the volume and scope of the project remain limited.
The changes in Earth’s resources in Islamabad have significantly impacted weather patterns and natural disasters, such as urban flooding and forest fires. As a result of climate change, there is a possibility that these hazards will become more frequent and severe in the future.
Many countries are taking action to address deforestation and promote reforestation by protecting their forests and planting new trees. For example, the “MillionTreesNYC” initiative in New York City aims to plant one million new trees by 2025. Australia has committed to planting one billion trees by 2030 to combat climate change and protect biodiversity.
Although these initiatives are positive, more must be done globally to address deforestation and promote reforestation. Collaboration among governments, organisations, and individuals is necessary to protect and restore forests, which play a critical role in mitigating the impacts of climate change and supporting biodiversity.
Companies must join efforts in addressing deforestation and promoting reforestation alongside government and public initiatives. Businesses can actively support by committing to using only sustainable forest products in their operations, funding or volunteering for reforestation projects, and collaborating with stakeholders to promote sustainable forestry practices.
By doing so, companies can help mitigate the effects of deforestation and climate change and demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability.
The writer is an NUST alumnus, presently teaching at NUTECH University
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 20th, 2023