Go Green Pakistan!

Black DPYasmeen Aftab Ali

When I was a child, I often heard my elders saying, “Do a good deed. A good deed is akin to planting a tree in heaven.” The elders are no more, the priorities have changed, and so have the slogans. Everything that is environment friendly, everything that involves the people in owning their country in form of steps that help them integrating as a nation has gone flying out of the window. In its stead are sectarian divides, attacks and criticisms between parties. When calls are given by parties for its supporters; it’s to protest against this or that. When was the last time they came together to do something positive for the country? Or for their province? Or even for the area representatives live in?

Yet there are so many meaningful ways each of us can contribute towards having our children more grounded to Pakistan and inculcate in them the desire to give rather than to take from their motherland.  Unfortunately our leaders are not investing in our biggest asset: our children. There is a lack of vision, a lack of sense of direction one observes at every level.

But then, I use the term leader. A leader influences people to work towards and achieve a certain goal. A leader does not work from the back benches. He (or she) leads from the front. Letting others follow his example.  The leader must also have the vision; to view an organization or his country at different year-benchmarks down the road. Jack Welch Chairman and CEO of General Electric for two decades talks about being a leader to be, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Tree plantation is one such method of being productive on ground. Literally. According to a local newspaper the floods in 2010 and heavy rains of 2011 damaged thousands of trees.  An absorbing article by the Sunday Herald Scotland states, “If Pakistan’s authorities continued to allow the country’s timber mafia and a benighted and oppressed peasantry to strip the country’s forests at a faster rate than anywhere else in Asia, as is happening; floods of Biblical proportions would be inevitable. They would not be acts of God. They would be man-made catastrophes.” Published August 29, 2010 it goes on to say, “Trees felled by so-called illegal loggers – an infamous “timber mafia” that has representatives in the Pakistan Parliament in Islamabad and connections right to the top of government and the military – are stacked in the innumerable nullahs [steep narrow valleys], gorges and ravines leading into the main rivers. From there they are fed into the legal trade, earning the mafia billions of dollars yearly. …….But this month the mud and water deluge cascaded off the tree-bare mountains and hills with exceptional force and barrelled down towards the plains in mammoth fury.” These mountains, gorges and gulley are the usual areas of upper Indus River track, meaning thereby the Kohistan, Hazara and lower Gilgat-Baltistan regions. Traditionally, the riverine forests have always been a check on floods but unfortunately, in the last two decades or so, massive deforestation has taken place. Once dense forests are now totally denuded giving pathway to floods and devastation. The article quoted expounds, “Relief workers said bridges, homes and people were destroyed and swept away by the hurtling and swirling logs before the waters spread on to the plains below, engulfing an area of more than 60,000 square miles, more than twice the land area of Scotland.”

On the flip side, there have been campaigns for tree plantation. In June 2013, the Pakistan Reconstruction Program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) held one for planting trees. Though many laws exist both on the national and provincial level to protect the environment but the degree of their implementation is questionable. To quote one example only; Sindh Plantation, Maintenance of Trees and Public Parks Ordinance of 2002 states, “no person shall remove, cut, damage, or displace any plant, shrub, tree or a branch at any public place, including parks.” A local newspaper on the other hands comments, “The data collected by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which according to their website, is the oldest global environmental organization since 1948, states that only about 2.5 per cent of Karachi is green.” (Published April 18, 2013)

To our pride; “ Pakistan set the Guinness World Record for tree planting, 541,176 young mangroves trees planted by 300 volunteers from the local fishermen communities just in one day, the country broke the previous 447,874 record held by historical rival India,”  according to a report published in June 2009 on the official website of  WWF Global.

Trees are important for many reasons. Trees prevent soil erosion; they strengthen the soil thereby reducing the impact of rain and wind, they protect the banks of streams when floods come. They give out oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide. According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “eleven of the last twelve years (1995 to 2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (records since 1850)”. These changes in Earth’s temperature have correspondingly been associated with increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (as well as methane and nitrous oxide) levels in the atmosphere,” states Steve Nix a professional forester and natural resource consultant. In places having snow fall, trees can have a noticeable reduction on snowdrifts. In warmer climates, trees help reducing temperature; this in turn can reduce electricity costs. In urban areas, beautifully laid out residences and residential areas enhance the value of the property.

Due to increasing urbanization, more and more trees are being cut away to provide space for expanding population needs. They are being cut also to provide much needed firewood in extreme cold. Increasing population has led to increased consumer demand; demand for furniture is one. Wood consumption for industries is another reason. In any case, these trees are not being replaced with more trees being planted. Chanting slogans, promising the sun, moon and stars to the people who entrusted the winning political candidates and made them successful is just not good enough. They want a change. Change is not just related to passing resolutions in the National Assembly for Protecting Pakistan but the will to do so must be reflected in actions not in words alone.

Government can support and promote tree plantation in many ways. It can encourage multinationals and local organizations to promote plant a tree campaign in given areas. The government may offer incentives to the organizations involved in tree plantation. The companies can hold a Tree Plantation Day, which can be used as a sales promotion springboard offering excellent publicity opportunity and product(s), service awareness their company offers. Company giveaway kits can be given to participants.  The government can start a website as done by the’ Billion Tree Campaign’ by United Nations to growing a billion (1 000 000 000) trees all around the world during 2007. Pictures of people planting trees can be sent and posted on the website.

What is needed is for the government not to keep the initiative at the political level alone. But to involve companies, organizations, people at mohalla levels to get involved. Earth Day may be a great time to organize Tree Plantation events around the country. It can be turned into an exciting national activity.

I am reminded here of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. ”

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book, ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She tweets at @yasmeen_9 her mail ID is: yasmeenali62@gmail.com 

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