Friday, September 4, 2009

Conserving and protecting forests to combat climate crises

Global climate change is affecting Pakistan with an expected temperature increase higher than the global average, change in monsoon rain patterns and melting of glaciers in the northern areas. From 1992-2005, the country experienced 11 extreme events with the 2005 earthquake (and consequent land sliding and flash floods) in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) killing more than 70,000 people. Pakistan has total area of 880,000 km2 having irregular, elongated, polygon that extends through 13.4 of latitude from 23.6N to 37.0N. Geo-morphological diversity within Pakistan has given rise to a wide range of ecological conditions . According to the 4th assessment report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the impacts of climate change in Pakistan (South Asia) are decrease in freshwater availability, flooding from rivers, pressure on natural resources and environment and rise in endemic morbidity and mortality due to diarrheal disease primarily associated with floods and droughts. Scientific studies show that global climate variability is happening due to emission of greenhouse gases, particularly the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in atmosphere which has grown 80% annually between the periods of 1970 to 2004 . Forests play a vital role in sequestration of CO2, conservation of environment and reducing the impacts of climate change. The forests in District Mansehra, including of Siran valley are the major watershed and forest resources of the country. Pakistan has only 4.7% of its land under the forest cover. This meagre forest resource is insufficient to meet the demand of the country’s population.

Siran Valley with the total population of 146, 000 inhabitants is located in the seismic zone Swat-Aster (SASZ), having maximum height of 2260 m and minimum height 1340 m at sea level. The climate is humid subtropical continental highland type. Characterized by soft geological surface and steep slopes, Siran Valley is amongst the most vulnerable to natural disasters, having faced numerous unexpected disasters due to climate variability. Almost 100% of the Siran population is dependent on forest wood for fuel and cooking, keeping houses warm during winter and houses reconstruction, particularly after the earthquake of 2005 which almost doubled the use of forest wood for reconstruction of houses . Of the total area, 27% (or 26,108 has.) of Siran Valley is covered with forest, 44% (or 44, 092 has.) agricultural land and 28% (or 26, 498 has.) range land . According to the GTZ reports, more then 45% of the existing forests of Siran valley was depleted in only a short span of 10 years (from 1979 to 1988). The recent FGD with local communities in Siran valley show even the worse condition of deforestation i.e. 80% depletion of precious forest resources during the last 40 years . Communities have observed rise in temperature, decreasing snowfall and water sources and increasing incidents of natural disasters within the target areas and surroundings. Loss in these natural resource assets is demonstrated in the fact that in the whole country, wood biomass is declining at a rate of 4-6% per year and this is the second highest declining rate in the world .

Alarming deforestation in Siran valley has put the lives and livelihoods of entire valley on high risk and more vulnerable to climate variability. About 90% of the population belong to poor and below categories that have agriculture and livestock as main source of livelihoods. Along with huge deforestation, grazing and farming in risky hilly location has made this area vulnerable to landslides and flash floods . Besides the incidents of landslides and flash floods that happen every year, the area experienced mega flooding in 1992 resulted in loss of agricultural lands, crops and livestock. In 2000 a flash flood swept away the entire Dadar village while in 2006 flash floods in Jabori, 10 people were killed. The on-going deforestation has exuberated in environmental degradation, increasing soil erosion and siltation in dams. While the capacity of target area population to thrive and develop competence and resilience has been threatened. The Government of NWFP Forest policy 2002 emphasise on conservation of these precious natural resources and participation of local community in sustainable management of forests for community wellbeing. While the establishment of Clean Development Mechanism under the Ministry of Environment encourages participation of private sector in improving communities livelihoods through integrating environmental protection into economic well being. The Government of Pakistan, private sector and local communities should seriously think and take action to conserve and protect their precious forests to combat global climate crises and to work for the well being of local communities.