AS has been the case in numerous other locations in Pakistan, forest cover in Sindh’s Chhor forest has been reduced significantly over the last few decades, and encroachment and state apathy are principally to blame. Although Chhor is a protected forest, its size has been reduced from 3,000 acres to 300 acres over time. Hundreds of acres were reportedly given to the military for a cantonment, while large parts of the forest have been occupied by local people. Forest guards are said to be instrumental in allowing the illegal occupation of forest land. Perhaps that is the root of the problem: what is to be done when the guardians of the forests themselves play a central role in their destruction? The short-term benefits — such as selling timber or exploiting the forest for other commercial purposes — are not worth the disaster that will unfold if forests continue to be denuded. This must especially be communicated to those who live in or near protected forests.
Pakistan has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, while trees are also mercilessly chopped down in urban areas. Yet this reckless behaviour has consequences: deforestation adds to the intensity of floods and landslides, while (disappearing) mangroves serve as natural buffers against tidal waves and tsunamis. Protecting forests is far more important than generally understood. There is a need to update laws so that stiffer penalties are in place for those who illegally occupy forests or use them for commercial purposes, just one example being the draft of the Sindh Forest Act, 2011, which has been languishing in limbo waiting for passage by the provincial assembly. Some NGOs are doing commendable work to raise awareness about the importance of forests but unless these efforts are supported by the state and communities, it is difficult to see a greener future.