Zahrah Nasir Getting to the root of the problem is a necessary 'must' when trying to tackle any difficult situation and, in this instance and in relation to the biblical deluge which spawned horrendous consequences, the first place to look is in the north of the country where the catastrophe was born. The timber mafia are having an ongoing field day right across the mountainous north, denuding precipitous, therefore landslide prone slopes of the living trees whose roots serve to hold the earth in place. With these trees either gone or continuing to be stolen at an alarming rate, exposed slopes have a tendency to crash down in even moderate rain or snowfall let alone during dangerously stormy weather. Increasing incidences of landslides and flash flooding in these areas can all, without doubt, be traced back to the devastating loss of important tree cover. The timber mafia, whose direct and indirect members rake in billions of rupees annually from their highly illegal business, go about their self-imposed task with the protection of paid for politicians, bureaucrats and large landowners who care for nothing except cash profit. Local residents have no option but to watch their forests disappear as, if they dare to object, they run the risk of being quietly murdered or, at the very least, being violently persecuted until they desist from opening their mouths or even looking in the direction of the bad guys. Loss of tree cover affects indigenous populations in a variety of ways with landslides and flash floods being only two of them: Fuel wood generated by both living and dead branches, both of which they can legally gather, are a necessary part of their daily life as few can afford the expensive luxury of gas cylinders for heating and cooking; animal fodder growing in the shade of forest trees is yet another basic requirement for such people as is the regular harvesting of wild plants, mushrooms and honey that are all associated with sufficient tree cover in these naturally fragile regions where a reasonable standard of human existence is largely dependent on the biodiversity that allows for an integrated balance between people, birds, animals and plants. Allowing the timber mafia to criminally disrupt this biodiversity renders life extremely difficult, perhaps even eventually unsustainable for mou-ntain communities and, as everyone should now realise, for the millions of people residing downstream in the plains. The timber mafia must obviously be brought to book, their wanton rape of forests cover stopped once and for all and massive tree planting campaigns must be launched which is where another root problem quickly becomes evident. Tree planting campaigns have taken place in the north, as in so many other areas of the country too, but there is very little to show for them. It is officially acknowledged that approximately 70 percent of saplings planted during such campaigns die off due to lack of follow-up care and attention. At least 40 percent of these hastily, often incorrectly planting saplings die within 12 months of being put in the ground, 30 percent of those remaining succumb in the second year and yet another 10 percent in the following year which brings to question the feasibility of these much publicised efforts. This ridiculously high mortality rate needs to be examined in the clear, unco-rrupted if that's possible, light of day as, akin with so many other aspects of life, vast sums of money are skimmed off over the entire planting procedure from start to unsatisfactory finish. For example, why on earth plant perhaps one million saplings in a locality which has space for a mere half that number at the most? If the reason is purely to gain publicity for sheer volume and, in doing so to impress upon the world at large that Pakistan is really fighting against climate change so deserves to be lauded (read 'paid to plant more forests in the future') then the scam is nothing if not transparent. In reality, forest cover is diminishing not expanding except in reports attempting to justify 'invisible' financial investment. If, that is, the powers that be are serious about increasing forest cover, then it would surely make more sense to stop trying to impress people with dizzying numerical figures, plant less saplings at a lower cost and maintain them properly so that there is, one hopes, eventually something to show for it. Hastily gouging out a shallow hole, then sticking a tree in it in the vain hope of it surviving before repeating the process a mere few inches away is a ludicrous waste of time, effort and increasingly hard to find cash. Much better to do the job properly: provide a decent level of aftercare and end up with perhaps 20,000 new living trees, instead of another 800,000 dead ones or whatever. Reforesting the fragile north will not prevent future flood catastrophes on its own but will serve, in a reasonable measure, to lessen their impact on upstream regions at least. Reforesting the entire country, wherever feasible, would though be a massive step towards mitigating future flood disasters, especially if such a programme is sensibly enhanced with the construction of strategically located dams. The writer is a Murree-based freelance columnist.