LAHORE - The Pai Forest in Sindh, one of the richest eco-regions of the world, is facing threats from land grabbers and shortage of water as a part of this protected area had already been encroached. These facts were revealed in the findings of a delegation of Forum of Environment Journalist Pakistan (FEJP) during an environment study tour to Pai Forest in the heart of Sindh (located 5 km away from Sarkand Town), which was organised by World Wide Funds for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P). Ironically forest had been declared a protected area and is part of the Indus eco-region that has been identified as one of 40 biologically richest eco-regions in the world. A WWF-P official located in WWF-P Sarkand site office told the delegation that the forest spread over 1933 hectors of land is under threat from influential land grabbers. He said as per recent survey around 250 acres of the forest had been encroached by influential of the area, including the army, for cultivation purposes. Moreover, the Sindh government has given 150 acres to the army and 140 acres to Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, which violates the spirit of 'protected area. The Pai Forest is an island surrounded by arable land, hence its land has become prime target for the surrounding farmers, he added. There are 23 villages around the forest, having a population of around 30,000 that adds extra pressure of the forest by grabbing land for cultivating cash crops, since their traditional livelihood on livestock does not pay well in comparison to cash crops. Also, cutting of forest for fuel-wood by the local communities has significantly contributed to the destruction of the forest ecosystem. Water is another issue that confronts the forest. It was once known as riverine forest, but after the construction of flood protection bund on the River Indus it has now turned into an irrigated forest ecosystem. It has been cut off from the riverine areas and became inland forest and thus this inland forest is situated outside the river embankments. Hence, its reliance on regular inundation from the Indus River has been shifted to control supply of water from Rohri Canal. The WWF-P official said 30 cusecs water is needed per month for maintaining the Pai Forest. Although it has been sanctioned by the Sindh government, but the forest never receives its full share. In fact, the forest receives one-fourth of 30 cusecs, which is only sufficient for 25 per cent of the forest. Since the forest lies in the tail end of the canal, a major chunk of water allocated for the forest is siphoned off by landlords and small farmers, leaving the forest with hardly any water. Over all water shortage in Sindh is another factor that encourages farmers to steel forests water, he added. The agony of water-starved forest is exacerbated by plantation of eucalyptus trees, which are highly water consumption plants. It is indeed an irony on the part of the Sindh Forest Department to plant such trees in a forest where water is scarce. Its number is huge, but according to the WWF-P official, it has been planted to show quick progress of the forest since eucalyptus trees grow fast. The seriousness of the Sindh government towards one of the import ecoregions of the world can be gauged from the fact that not one staff of Sindh Forest Department was seen at the site. There are ruins of a forest department staff colony that shows that in distance past there used to be forest department staff in the Pai Forest. Abandoned rusty tube wells, party used for irrigating the forest, is common sight and reflects commitment of the Sindh government toward conserving important ecosystem of the region. Due to its ecological importance, this plantation has been declared as a protected area (Game Reserve) by Sindh Wildlife Department for conservation and sustainable management of wildlife and its habitat because it provides abode to different wildlife species. Important wildlife of the area includes hog deer, partridges, asiatic jackals, jungle cat, porcupine, wild boar, snakes, etc. According to the WWF-P official, to protect indigenous wildlife population, hunting was permitted through licenses, but the limit rarely adhered to and indiscriminating hunting was common. This posed threat to the population of hog deer and partridges. Hence, for the last over two year no license has been issue for hunting. To lessen the pressure on the forest from the local communities, the WWF-P introduced community based origanisations (CBOs) and at present 14 CBOs are working in villages adjacent to the forest, which are funded by the Dutch government. The purpose is creating awareness on the importance of the forest ecosystem and provide alternate mean of income and source of energy. CBOs providing vocational training courses for females and running bio-gas plants. It may be mention that Pai Forest is part of Indus ecoregion, which has been identified as one of 40 biologically richest ecoregions in the world by Global 200 Analysis. The G200 ecoregions is a global initiative undertaken by WWF internationally, together with organisations such as UNEP, Birdlife International and National Geographic Society to identify and reflect the ecological significance and representation of earths biodiversity. The WWF-Pakistan has helped develop a 50-year vision for the Indus ecoregion, in consultation with relevant stakeholders with the aim of establishing a joint action programme.