Deforestation versus reforestation: Climate Changes

By Amar Guriro

Deforestation versus reforestation
Deforestation versus reforestation

KARACHI: Thar Desert, the arid land located in eastern Sindh along Indian border, is supposedly the country’s worst affected region in terms of climate changes. The variations in climate not only change the weather pattern, but also reduce the number of indigenous trees, herbs, and shrubs, birds as well as animals in the region.

The locals say the changes in climate have drastically reduced the number of trees in the region, affecting the living beings and organisms. “There was a time when several trees were here; but now, almost all of them have been cut down. Even some important shrubs are close to none,” a primary school teacher of Goth Bhada Sandha, Sain Mooro Mal told Daily Times.

Residents of Bhada Sandha village, about 20 kilometres off Chachro town in Thar Desert, have seen that a variety of indigenous trees, herbs and shrubs, which were most important for the desert dwellers are disappearing from the district.

To help the villagers restore these plant species, Research and Development Foundation (RDF) initiated a project “Reducing Climate Risks and Vulnerabilities” with the help of German donor, the Kindernothilfe (KNH), and German Government’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in collaboration with IUCN, WWF-Pakistan and Sindh Agriculture University Tando Jam.

“There were a large number of indigenous plant species in Thar Desert, ie, gum Arabic acacia, Prosopis cineraria and Phoag among other shrubs and trees – having an important role during droughts and dry season. But due to the climate changes as well as deforestation, many of these species are nearly extinct now,” said Sohail Aziz, advocacy and research officer, RDF.

RDF’s Project Manager Ali Mansoor said the project makes a substantial contribution towards developing local adaptation strategies to protect the forestry in Tharparkar. “We have selected four especially climate-sensitive union councils in Tharparkar District, where strategies are in place to restore the lost forest. It will help mitigate the effects by helping locals to bring back those plants,” said Mansoor.

He said that under the project, the RDF has built a nursery to help the locals deposit saplings of endangered plant species, and later plant them in the wild. “The communities have adaptation strategies in place, and have the knowledge and necessary capacities to implement them,” he said.

The residents look after the nursery; water the newly planted samples; protect them from excessive sunlight, and also from the wild animals. Later they take these saplings and plant them in the wild.

Still, the villagers are struggling to restore the nearly extinct plants at a small scale; these plants have great importance for the people, livestock, wildlife and birds.

However, this is just one side of the story. Just miles away from Bhada Sandha, where villagers are planting trees to restore forest cover; few people were seen busy uprooting several indigenous trees with the help of heavy machinery, bulldozers and excavators.

These people, in order to transport heavy machinery to Thar Coal site – the place where country’s largest lignite coal reserves were discovered – are widening the existing road, for which they are cutting every shrub, herb, tree, and even the standing crops, which come in the way.

The Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) discovered over 175 billion tonnes of lignite coal in Thar Desert in 1992, later for the generating power.

Since then, many international organisations have initiated power generation plants on the coal site; however, due to the lack of the infrastructure among other reasons, the process did not bore fruit.

The Sindh government recently established Thar Coal Energy Board, and Thar Coal Authority to look after the coal-related affairs, and also announced to construct basic infrastructure including road network, airport, water channel and effluent channel to drain out the waste that will be produced during coal excavation and power generation.

And for the project to come into practice, a long road is needed. According to the official record of Thar Coal Authority, to transport the required heavy machinery from Karachi Port, a road already exists, but in deteriorating conditions. Moreover, it is a narrow lane.

Hence, a 360-kilometre long road from Karachi to Thar Coal site has been planned in three phases.

Removal of on-the-way vegetation

Thar Coal mining will involve heavy machinery to be moved from seaport to coal mine sites through this road. Sindh government allotted a huge sum of money for the road including land filling, to the contractors; however, the contractors, in order to save finance, are getting the mud supply from nearby areas.

They are taking fine quality mud – that protects rainwater from seepage -from a local natural pond of Thar known as Tarai.

To carry the mud supply, contractors are using heavy excavators, tractors and bulldozers, and are also removing the indigenous trees from the Thar Desert – a region already suffering from deforestation, water shortage and extreme climatic changes.

The contractors are also removing huge sand mounds to fill the road path. Local residents say these mounds are covered with fertile land, and by removing the cover; vegetation will be lost.

Just outside the Mithi town, this scribe found hundreds of indigenous trees including Prosopis cineraria (Locally known as Khajri or Kandi), Acacia, Pelu tree or Salvadora oleiodes, which were cut down by contractors.

“In Thar Desert, the life is dependent on natural resources, and indigenous herbs, shrubs and trees plays important role among the local residents especially during droughts. But all is getting lost for the construction of a road,” said Ali Akbar Rahimoo, chief executive of AWARE.

He added that most of the plants in a desert grow quite slowly – take up to several decades to become a full tree. And there cutting is an irreversible loss to this arid region,” he said.

Rahimoo added that the Kandi or Kahijri trees are quite is important – drought resistant and people use its fruit – the Singri as vegetable. It also serves as fodder for goats, and its produce nitrogen too – the best fertiliser for crops.

“For such a huge and important project, authorities while carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must also hold a public hearing to listen to the objections of the local people,” said Rahimoo.

Environmental Impact Assessment

The official record of Thar Coal Authority reveals that National Engineering Services Pakistan (Pvt) Limited (Nespak) has carried out a detailed environmental assessment for the project; but surprisingly, no copy of the EIA is kept on their website or been made public so far.

In many developed countries, ancient trees are treated as national heritage, but in Pakistan, they are mercilessly cut down in the name of “development”.

No compensation for farmers losing their standard crops

During the recent rains, Tharis were hoping for improved agricultural produce; but as the contractors removed the standing crops to fill the path for the road, they were disappointed. Aidan Singh, a young man and resident of a small village outside the town of Mithi, is one of the farmers who lost their standing crops; yet did not get any compensation.

“There was a Tarai (natural pond where locals collect rainwater) outside my village, with a big Kandi tree. People used to sit under its shade, and drink water from the well. I also opened a small tea shop under the tree for my livelihood, but the contractors cut the tree, took away the clay, swept my standing crops as well the source of my livelihood,” he said sorrowfully. “I lost everything, the pond, tree and crops.”

On contact, the site engineer of the under-construction road, on condition of anonymity, told Daily Times that his company had acquired permission to remove sand from the nearby dunes and cut the trees.

However, the chief engineer of the project, Hassan Ally Memon, was not aware of the tree cutting or the damage caused to standing crops. “Obviously the contractor will use nearby area to take sand for filling the road, as most of the land is owned by Sindh government,” he said. “I am not aware if they are cutting the trees or removing clay from natural ponds. I will check, and if that is the case, we will take action.”

Infrastructure is the need of the hour, but should it be at the cost of nature?

* Obviously the contractor will use nearby area to take sand for filling the road, as most of the land is owned by Sindh government,” he said. “I am not aware if they are cutting the trees or removing clay from natural ponds. I will check, and if that is the case, we will take action”

Hassan Ally Memon : Chief engineer Thar Coal Authority
* There was a time when several trees were here; but now, almost all of them have been cut down. Even some important shrubs are close to none”

Sain Mooro Mal : Primary schoolteacher
* We have selected four especially climate-sensitive union councils in Tharparkar District, where strategies are in place to restore the lost forest. It will help mitigate the effects by helping locals to bring back those plants”

Ali Mansoor : RDF’s Project Manager
* In Thar Desert, the life is dependent on natural resources, and indigenous herbs, shrubs and trees plays important role among the local residents especially during droughts. But all is getting lost for the construction of a road”

Ali Akar Rahimoo : AWARE Chief Executive
* There was a Tarai (natural pond where locals collect rainwater) outside my village, with a big Kandi tree. People used to sit under its shade, and drink water from the well. I also opened a small tea shop under the tree for my livelihood, but the contractors cut the tree, took away the clay, swept my standing crops as well the source of my livelihood” Courtesy Daily Times
Aidan Singh : llage resident

Published in ZaraiMedia.com

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