Environmental crisis in Multan: Deforestation, wood theft, and rising temperatures threaten ecosystem

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Haseeb Awan

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Read In Urdu

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Environmental crisis in Multan: Deforestation, wood theft, and rising temperatures threaten ecosystem

Haseeb Awan

loop

Read In Urdu

The tree plantation campaign under the Clean Green Tsunami initiative has been suspended for a prolonged period in Multan. Due to neglect in the maintenance of hundreds of plants, they have deteriorated, and the continuous illegal cutting of trees poses a serious threat to the survival of the remaining forests.

The Forest Department, Multan Division, has planted over 8.45 million trees in the past five years, while the Southern Zone has planted over 42 lac trees. These trees were planted along riverbanks, in Abbasia, Cheecha Watni, Pirovwal, and Dera Ghazi Khan forests, as well as in the Vehari Sadiqabad and Lal Sohanra parks, among many other locations, but most of them were not able to reach their full growth potential.

The Divisional Forest Officer, Rashid Mehmood, confirms a rapid tree decline in and around Multan, impacting the climate and environment.

The temperature in Multan and its surroundings has risen over the past few years because the forest area keeps decreasing.

On July 1 this year, the city experienced a temperature of 45 degrees Celsius. In 2022 it was 43 degrees; in 2021, it was 44 degrees on the same day.

According to some officials from the department, requesting anonymity, many saplings planted during plantation drives in the last five years have died before becoming trees. One of the main causes for this is the department's insufficient funds.

When the caretaker government took charge in Punjab, the allocation of development funds was halted, which also impacted the forest department.

Since December 2022, the department has not received financial resources for planting and caring for trees as part of the Billion Tree Tsunami Project. In June 2023, a supplementary grant of Rs68 lac was allocated for this purpose, but the funds could not be utilised.

There is a shortage of resources to pay the salaries of around five thousand daily workers in the department. Rs12 lac is due for their last month's wages.

The affected employees include the financial and forest conservation staff responsible for nurturing plants in the department's nurseries.

The non-payment of salaries to these staff members has had a negative impact on the protection of plants and forests. Additionally, incidents of wood theft have been on the rise.

In the last five years, the department has registered 200 cases against timber thieves and the accused have been fined more than Rs21 lac. In these cases, the total theft of wood worth more than one crore, Rs80 lac, was revealed.

Muhammad Rafiq*, a range forest officer from the forest department, mentioned anonymously that the primary reason for the lack of new plantations in recent years is the rising incidence of theft. He further expressed concerns about the weak legal action system within the forest department, where effective measures are not taken to hold wood thieves accountable.

According to him, each forest guard is responsible for safeguarding approximately 2,000 acres of forests, along with canals and roadside trees stretching between 150 to 400 km.

"These employees cannot protect such a vast area, and how can they perform their work with dedication and enthusiasm if they are not being paid?" In the Multan Division of the Forest Department, there are a total of 65 forest guards who are currently serving without weapons, while there are 25 vacant positions for this role.

According to an official, wood thieves are better equipped with modern weapons and machinery, making it effortless to steal wood. It poses a significant challenge for the department to apprehend them.

Meanwhile, Rashid Mahmood asserts that anyone involved in wood theft is dealt with impartially, without any discrimination.

Deputy Secretary Technical, Dr Khurram, from the Forestry Department, denies the claim that the new saplings planted during previous plantation campaigns failed to grow.

He states that 95 per cent of the newly planted trees are thriving, a fact that the International Union verified for the Conservation of Nature team during their visit to Multan in December 2022.

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The visit was conducted as part of the transparency review process for the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project. Dr Khurram explains that the team visited various locations and captured satellite images of the forests, affirming the success of the plantation campaign.

According to environmentalist Dr Ahsan Khan Tareen, the increasing population is directly linked to the rising demand for wood, contributing to the surge in wood theft. Furthermore, extensive green areas are being destroyed for residential projects without sufficiently replacing new trees. These conditions have severely impacted the ecosystem, leading to an intensification of heat.

Dr Ahsan emphasises that unless large-scale plantation and tree protection efforts are implemented systematically, the area will become unsuitable for human habitation within a few decades.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Published on 18 Jul 2023

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