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WWF-Pakistan expresses grave concern on the recent Punjab Forest Act amendment

Posted on 24 February 2016

Lahore, WWF-Pakistan expresses grave concern on the recently amended Punjab Forest Act of 1927. It is expected that amendments in the act by the provincial government will pave the way for the destruction of protected forest lands in Punjab, which will have an adverse effect on the biodiversity of the province and will compound the problem of climate change, the impacts of which Pakistan regularly faces in the form of floods, droughts, heat waves and cyclones.

The Punjab Forests (Amendment) ordinance 2016 was promulgated after the approval of the Governor of Punjab on 26 January 2016. Section 27 and 34-A of the Act has been repealed, whereas, subsection 3 has been inserted, according to which the provincial government, after approval of the provincial cabinet, can declare conversion of a reserve forest or any part of reserved forestland to any other land use.

In 2010, the government of Punjab imposed a ban on the use of forest land for non-forestry purposes by introducing amendments to the Forest Act of 1927. This move was welcomed by WWF-Pakistan as a step towards conserving the country’s already depleting forest cover.

According tothe United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s state of forest report of 2010, at 2.4% per annum Pakistan has the highest rate of deforestation in Asia. The reasons for this include an increasing gap between demand and supply of wood, dependence of local populations on forest for livelihood, no mechanism to give incentives or compensations to forest protectors and climate change factors including drought, floods and fires.

Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan, was of the opinion that, “Pakistan, along with over 190 countries, signed a groundbreaking deal on climate change action at the UN climate talks held in December 2015 in Paris. The text clearly acknowledges the significance of forests, and recognizes the importance of incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation and sustainable management of forests. The Punjab government’s decision comes as a shock to us after following the landmark COP21 agreement according to which Pakistan has pledged its commitment on the international stage.”

The contributions of forests to the well-being of humankind are far-reaching. Forests provide vital wood supplies and help to combat rural poverty, ensure food security, offer watershed protection and provide decent livelihoods. They also provide habitats to diverse animal species and keep global warming in check by absorbing carbon dioxide. Over the past 50 years, about half the world's original forest cover has been lost, the most significant cause for being unsustainable use of its resources.

According to DrUzma Khan, Director Species Conservation, WWF-Pakistan, “Since 1947, Punjab province alone converted 40,352 ha of forest land into other non-forest uses. The amendment of 2010 in the Forest Act 1927 ended the denotification of reserved and protected forests, which was a milestone towards forest conservation in the province. Unfortunately now it is being revoked which will have detrimental impacts on forest dependent species of Punjab such as the common leopard, grey goral, barking deer, Punjab urial and many species of birds. Many of these species are locally categorized as critically endangered and habitat protection and availability is key to their survival. Squeezing habitats will exasperate conflicts between wildlife and communities.”

It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan in general, and Punjab in particular, is deficient in forest resources. According to the Landcover Atlas of Pakistan published by the Pakistan Forest Institute in 2012, the forest cover in Punjab has dropped down from 0.608 million hectare to 0.550 million hectare since 1992. This means that Punjab is losing its forest cover at an alarming rate of 2,900 hectare per annum. The province has 4.1 per cent of its total land reserved for protected forest, which falls short of international standards.


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