ISLAMABAD: Unprovoked Indian shelling has caused widespread destructions to the already degenerating woodlands along the Line of Control (LoC), the forest department told a parliamentary committee here Tuesday.
“Indian shelling has triggered both ground and canopy forest fires that have been difficult to put out. Difficult terrains and landmines make access and firefighting efforts almost impossible for conservators,” AJK Forest Secretary Syed Zahoorul Hassan Gilani told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan. The committee met for a briefing on the continuous unprovoked firing by the Indian army at Neelum Valley and the losses of lives and destruction to the jungle and natural habitat.
Officials from the AJK forest department informed the committee that over 5,000 acres of forestland had been impacted by the Indian shelling along the border which started earlier in September. Already stressed for water because of the ongoing drought conditions, forest fires, caused by the shelling, have also dried up the watertable. The officials added that AJK was home to six of the nine types of forests found in Pakistan.
AJK forest dept officials inform NA body that cross-border firing triggers forest fires
The meeting was informed that the forest department was struggling to conserve the natural habitat. The existing staff was protecting woodlands, which were three times as vast as that in Murree. They said the forest department was short of funding too and had to make do in a limited budget of Rs762 million against a demand for Rs2 billion.
According to another official, reforestation efforts started 20 years late in AJK where the indigenous population had caused significant harm to the woodlands by cutting down trees for fuel.
The meeting was informed that socio-economic conditions of the people were still poor and they depended heavily on forest resources despite the availability of petrol and kerosene to burn kitchen fires and for heating in winters.
The members were surprised to learn that at the current rate of reforestation efforts – 5,000 acres a year – it would take the department 180 years to repopulate 0.9 million acres of total empty area with trees.
“We can increase the rate of planting trees to 30,000 acres per year and lessen the time from 180 years to 30 years. But for that we need massive investments,” said the official, recommending an increase in the annual development plan from Rs345 million to Rs1.5 billion per year for the forest conservation efforts.
The officials also sought special allocations for the development of areas along the LoC.
The meeting was also briefed on the losses of lives and properties in the recent exchanges of cross-border firing.
Additional Secretary AJK Farhat Ali Mir told the meeting that 29 men and 10 women had been killed since the cross-border shelling started in Neelum, Chamb Jolian and Nathyal in September.
“As many as 128 men and women have been injured besides damages to the property where four houses have been completely destroyed and another 77 partially damaged,” he said.