Saying that forests are important and then writing about that is as cliche’d as it can get. However the forest in question, ‘Rais Mureed’ has been a sorry bone of contention since many years. I last covered the issue of Rais Mureed in 2007 and little has improved since then.
While the Pakistani Government loudly proclaimed the year 2007 as its ‘green Pakistan’ year and prominently showed leaders on television planting, saplings, the mutilation of full grown trees continued unpunished and unabated from the timber mafia in the North to the mangrove destruction in the estuary region in the South. IUCN data records show that replantation of mangroves is not even half as fast as their destruction. the local fishermen community needs its driftwood for firewood, but more damage has been done in the name ofland reclamation and security concerns. Land mafia here is the biggest stake holder and it seems people will go to any lengths where land is involved.
Rais Mureed is a typical belo forest located in the Matiari district of Sindh. This is the only notable vegetation in the region as the area is generally barren with sparse patches of thorny keekarr dotting the landscape. The bela region is located generally inarrow belts along the Indus flood plains. Their main varieties include Babul (acacia arabica) which is used for tanning and fuel and Shisham (dalbergia sissoo) which is an important source of timber and used in making furniture.
The damage to Rais Mureed and its adjoining Khebrani forests has been extensive. The local Bhucha and Khebar communities are poor farmers and use the forest land for grazing purposes. As yet, they are reportedly the only obstacle to the influential persons of Sammon who want the land razed to ground level for agriculture. Recently a woman of the Bhucha community was killed during a police operation in the area and village persons have demanded suo motu notice.
The Rais Mureed forest was earlier spread over 12,000 acres and figures taken till 2008, show that the area had dwindled to just over 2,000 acres. the forest has thus been deprived of nearly 80 million trees spread over 10,000 acres of land!
It is sad to see farmers looking at short term benefits rather than long term plans. Perhaps lack of education and specifically, geographical and agricultural knowledge of modern science can be related to this as erosion is imminent if the situation does not improve. The adjoining areas have sandy soil and the forest is the sole protector of the neighbouring crops of wheat, maize and sugar cane. If the forest is destroyed, the sandy soil will not be able to stop the inflow of water during floods and could lead to not only extensive crop damage but also waterlogging in the long run.
The Belo Bachayo committee was initially the lone voice against the tree-slaughter as the local Bhucha community was one of the main affectees. However, now Khebar, Khoso, Rind, Chohan, Sehto and other communities have also joined hands with the Indus Development Organization IDO to urge for an increase in aerial seeding, GIS mapping of the forest region and a reduction in leasing of forest land. In a recent press conference on 18th April 2011, they also urged for the Provincial Government to abide by the orders of the Sindh High court.
It is only to be hoped that environmental agencies and more importantly, the Government looks into this matter seriously before we face another bout of floods during the monsoon season.