KARACHI - Environmental and agricultural experts have called for paradigm shift in conservation of remaining forests of Sindh and abolish the existing forest lease policy to save the forests of the province.

Talking to TheNation, a number of the experts said that although the main factor responsible for degradation of the forests is the reduction or non-availability of inundation water in riverine ecosystems, yet socioeconomic factors also play a critical role. This includes pressure on the forests from an increasing population’s increasing demands, as well as their occupational dependences. They said that political influence on the forest has ruined the lungs of Sindh.

Mehmood Nawaz Shah of Sindh Abadgar Board said that forest management has never remained on priority. He said that rural economy and life is dependent on nature and natural resources and forests are essential for the development of rural economy. He suggested that forest lease policy should be abolished immediately in order to save forests.

Secretary General of Friends of Indus Forum Nasir Ali Panhwar said that after agriculture, forestry is the major land use in Sindh. He said that there are several lakes (natural lakes) and doabas (abandoned river beds) in the riverine areas, some of which store water round the year and are a source of livelihood. He said current forest lease policy of 2004, instead of improving tree growth, has aggravated the existing situation with further loss of productivity and policy is still continued without any evaluation in terms of its success and sustainability.

He added that conversion of forest into non-forest land is rampant in Sindh as the highest deforestation due to conversion has been found in Indus Delta mangroves, which has been depleted at a rate of around 2.3 percent.

Ghulam Qadir Shah from IUCN said that not only Riverine forests are productive but mangrove forests are also productive. He said that Pakistan is loosing six percent of its GDP annually due to environmental degradation, while Sindh is loosing 15 percent of its GDP every year on same account. He said that 0.6 million acres of forest land could be protected through new approach like man-biosphere approach.

Veteran forester Lala Fazal Balaee said that not only forests of Sindh are in crisis but forest department itself is in crisis and both needs to be rescued. He said that Sindh was pioneer in social forestry in the region, when in 1,858 the then Commissioner Sir Bartle Freer had introduced this concept in Sindh.

Meanwhile, an official of the Sindh Forest Department opined that department has no contribution in Riverine forests as they owe their existence to River Indus. He said that all stakeholders used to respect law but over the period of time, this culture has been eroded. He said that 541 forests cases are pending and these needs serious attention. He deplored that due to poverty local people, who used to protect forest in past are now part of commercial wood cutting business. He said that now department has provision to develop partnerships with civil society organization to protect forest.