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While forest lands have been given to various government departments, some civilians and non-government/commercial organisations also have got the forest land allotted in their name in an exchange. -Reuters Photo
KARACHI While forests currently cover only 2.5 per cent of the country's land, Pakistan has the highest annual deforestation rate in Asia, according to the latest findings of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The WWF report, which is being launched on Friday, warns that if the current deforestation rate of 2.1 per cent and trend of land conversion from forest to other uses is not checked, the country will not be able to meet its international commitments under the Millennium Development Goals to increase its forest cover from 2.5 per cent to six per cent by 2015.

The report says that more than 61,000 hectares (approx. over 151,500 acres) of forest land have been converted to non-forest use in the country since its inception.

The urgent measures recommended to the relevant authorities to curb the negative trend are immediate placement of a ban on forest land conversions, commercial harvesting and allotments; spread of awareness among lawmakers for proper legislation to restrict land conversions; and recovery of forest land from encroachers and its subsequent reforestation.

In extremely important cases where conversion of forest lands becomes unavoidable, necessary provisions in the law must be made for compensatory forestation on twice the land being converted / allotted, the report recommends.

Mangroves depletion on the top

Over 4.242 million hectares in the country were forest land in 1992. However, it declined to 3.44 million hectares by 2001, the report says.

The highest rate of deforestation has been found in the Indus delta mangroves, which has depleted at a rate of around 2.3 per cent, while the coniferous forest depleted at 1.99 per cent and ravine forests at 0.23 per cent.

The WWF report says that over 99,711 acres of forest land in Punjab and 27,874-acre forests in Sindh have been converted to non-forest uses. In this regard, it says, the beneficiaries remain some government departments, politicians and other influential people having close contact with respective governments.

A province-wise breakdown of forest land converted to other uses shows that Punjab tops the list with conversion of 99,711 acres, followed by Sindh with 27,874 acres, Balochistan with 13,693 acres, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 9,692 acres, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir with only 577 acres. This way the WWF tally of forest land conversion becomes 151,548 acres.

Beneficiaries

While forest lands have been given to various government departments, some civilians and non-government/commercial organisations also have got the forest land allotted in their name in an exchange.

Some of the beneficiaries in Sindh include Pir Syed Shah Mardan Shah, Pir S. Sibghatullah Rashdi, Pir Syed Nadir Ali Shah, Abdullah Fakir, Kamat Fakir, Syed Mohammad Qaim Shah, Ghulam Nabi, Ghluam Rasool and Abdullah Sanjarani, Chaudhry Mohammad Ashraf and Ghulam Haider Ghalio.

The government and private organisations having got the forest land in and around Karachi include the Defence Housing Authority, which has been provided with the largest chunk of over 11,500 acres, the city district government of Karachi for garbage dump, Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology, Barrette Hodgson Education Institution, Dawood College of Engineering and Technology, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, Aga Khan University, Sindh Madressah, and Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture.

In Punjab, the people and organisations having obtained the forest land include H. Syed Mohammad Ishaq, Malik Khalid for chairlift in Bansra Gali, Brig Mohammad Aslam Khan for Shangrila Hotel in Murree, Pearl Continental Hotel in Bhurban, Redco for hotel in Bhurban, Youths Hostel in Bhurban, Zafar Iqbal for houses in Murree, for chairlift in Patriata, InstaPhone, Journalists Housing Colony, and Punjab Government Servants Housing Foundation.

In Balochistan, a CNG company and SOS children's village have been given forest land in Quetta.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, beneficiaries include Mohammad Pervaiz Khan and PMA hut in Naran; Pakistan Youth Hostel in Sharan, Hotel Pine Park Complex in Shogran.