GB timber movement: Authorities move to ban fresh logging

An edited version of this article was published in The Express Tribune on Apr 9, 2013.

Islamabad – The Ministry of Climate Change agreed on Monday to forward a summary to the cabinet secretary to reverse a March 15 order which had allowed the transport of timber from Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) to other parts of the country.

The notification, which lifted a ban on the movement of legally and illegally cut timber from the forests in district Diamer, was approved by former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf just a day before the government’s term ended on March 16.

The lifting on the timber movement ban had drawn criticism from environmental activists and at least one Diamer native, Muhammad Khan Qureshi, who has been campaigning against deforestation in Chilas.

The activists claim the timber mafia in Diamer has already started illegal felling of trees and it would be difficult to monitor if the timber being transported is legal or illegal because of the timber mafia’s ties with local forest guards.

During a Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change meeting on Monday, the secretary of the climate change ministry, Muhammad Ali Gardezi, said he would gather written statements from the Akhtar Hameed Khan Resource Center and the World Wildlife Foundation, whose representatives were present at the meeting, and prepare a summary.

“I can write to the cabinet secretary, requesting her to reverse the order otherwise we could have international problems,” Gardezi told the committee’s chairperson, Dr Saeeda Iqbal.

The international problems Gardezi was referring to include Pakistan’s global commitments such as REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and the Nagoya Protocol, which are threatened by illegal logging.

Earlier, Iqbal had said the Diamer timber movement was not in the committee’s purview.

“It is a provincial issue; it is not related to my committee,” she said. “All we can do is to make recommendations to the relevant authorities.”

But Iqbal did order that the discussion of the timber movement notification be put on the minutes of the meeting for the record. She also said the smuggling and illegal cutting of trees in G-B is an assault on the human rights of the local communities which own the forests.

The meeting, which barely started when only three members showed up to complete the quorum, included a briefing on the role of federal and provincial governments regarding deforestation and trophy hunting by AHKRC’s director Fayyaz Baqir.

Baqir said effective forest monitoring entities at the national level are needed in order for Pakistan to deliver on its international commitments.

Zafar Pervaiz Sabri, group head of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), gave a presentation on the fund’s climate change development interventions in impoverished communities across Pakistan.

Towards the end of the meeting, WWF Pakistan director general Ali Hassan Habib recommended the committee to form a subgroup that could propose improvements in three priority areas namely conservation of natural forests, freshwater flows and strengthening the unique role of federal and provincial government regarding forestry.

Habib suggested the subgroup could meet with the caretaker law ministry to identify feasible actions in this regard.

He said Pakistan has comprehensive policies for climate change but the actual on-ground situation is often different.

As an example, he cited the case of the Zulfiqarabad city in Sindh. While Habib acknowledged new cities should be populated, he said the Zulfiqarabad Development Authority’s ordinance gives it powers to convert the land use of any part of Thatta district. Thatta contains over 90 per cent of Pakistan’s mangrove forests and the sweeping ordinance poses a threat to the existence of these forests.

The mangroves are considered a first line of defense against hurricanes and provide a natural habitat for fish to breed.

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