Just take a moment, and imagine a forest spanning 43,000 hectares. The biodiversity and beauty of such a massive expanse of land overwhelms the mind. Now realise, that in line with current deforestation rates (the highest in Asia), there won’t be a single tree left standing here by the end of the year. Such rampant exploitation has meant that only 2.1% of Pakistan currently has forest cover.

With the downturn in economic conditions, tree felling by locals for firewood and fuel has added to the already devastating workings of the timber mafia. Despite laws existing making such activities illegal, they are not enforced, with the situation exacerbated by the denial of local officials regarding the extremity of the issue. This is to be expected however, considering that local bodies, forestry officials and politicians often protect the timber mafia to share in such a lucrative industry where traders buy logs for Rs. 30/cubic feet, only to then sell them on for Rs. 3000/cubic feet on the open market. The timber mafia is a terrible thing, and if need be, draconian laws should be implemented to swiftly shut down their operations. But that alone, is not enough. Alternative sources of income and fuel have to be provided for the often desperate locals, in addition to cultivating a sense of ownership by empowering communities to participate in forest protection programs.

The ‘Green Growth Initiative’ in KPK is a very positive step in the right direction, but with 1.5-2 Trillions trees required to be planted in order to reverse the damage; a Federal policy needs to be implemented. It is a global issue, and foreign investment will play a pivotal role in the recovery of our forests, but we must first demonstrate our willingness as a nation, to tackle this problem. Having effectively destroyed the ‘lungs’ of our country, it’s time we create a culture of environmental consciousness and breathe some life back into it.