Afforestation in Punjab
According to WWF, Pakistan’s deforestation rate is 2.37% being the second highest in Asia. It is also amongst the top ten countries that are most affected by climate change and ranks 7th on the Global Climate Risk Index. Currently, there is no legal or regulatory framework in the province focusing on an integrated approach towards improving and sustaining the forestation of Punjab. Despite being extremely deficient in forestry sector resources, with only around 3% of its land area under forests in the public sector, there has been minimal effort in improving the forest count. Since it is believed that for a balanced economy of a country, an area of 10–15% should be under forests, the Urban Unit has developed an ‘Urban & Peri-Urban Forest Policy’ to combat the issue of deforestation in Punjab. The aim of the policy is to mobilize local community, schools, encourage NGO’s to play a key role in the afforestation activity along with an effective implementation and monitoring of interventions. The main objective is also to increase the quantity & quality of forests while integrating and improving the planning processes.
In order to set an example, the Urban Unit started a pilot project of afforestation in Sahiwal. Some of the main activities held included planting 3000 plants at five different sites i.e. Segregation and Treatment Disposal (STD) facility site, Government Primary School Girls 86 9L, Government Primary School Boys 86 9L, Government Primary School Boys 85 5L, Government Primary School Girls 85 5 L. 2600 plants were planted at the STD Sahiwal site, while 100 plants were distributed in each school in order to mobilize the local community starting from primary schools students.
Similar practices of urban forestry in other cities will not only contribute to the aesthetic value of the city, but can also play a key role in making the province more resilient to the effects of climate change by mitigating storm water runoff; improving air quality; biodiversity preservation; storing carbon; decreasing urban energy consumption by shading and cooling and also reducing the impacts of extreme weather and floods.
Some further practices that the Urban Unit will focus on in the near future will include establishment of green clubs in local schools for maintenance of plants; geo-tagging and their prioritization with timelines, satellite/drone image-based monitoring of plantation sites; mapping of urban forest sites such as in local schools and STD site; gather maps and information from the societies, authorities and departments to be digitized; conduct random surveys to check and ensure completeness and accuracy of information; perform spatial planning of Urban Forests; conduct tree count estimation, species and its characteristics record at localized city level; baseline data development; maintain an urban tree inventory (which will be developed) and lastly, facilitate NGO’s.
Furthermore, if similar activities are carried out in rest of the cities of Punjab, it can contribute to the improvement of the environmental state of the country as Pakistan ranks 144 on the Environmental Performance Index. The target of the policy is to turn Punjab into an attractive, more greener and a liveable province with thriving forests that provides economic, ecological and social benefits as part of its green and sustainable valued infrastructure.