By Mazhar Iqbal
Environmentalists, on Sunday 17 July 2022, called for necessary legislation & administrative measures to deal with deforestation and industrial pollution in AJ&K.
They observed that the loss of precious human lives and damage to forests could have been avoided if trained personnel had been appointed instead of daily laborers in the forest department of district Bhimber.
According to a recent BBC report, the forests in the southern district of Azad Jammu & Kashmir(AJ& K) had turned into piles of gunpowder due to the lack of rain for the past several months.
The dialogue was organized between environmentalists and residents on the topic of “Environmental Issues of Bhimber”. The event was organized in connection with an environmental awareness campaign by the Press for Peace Foundation UK. The panel discussion was hosted by Mazhar Iqbal Mazhar. The participants were Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ishtiaq (Mirpur), World Renewable Energy Expert Dr. Azhar Fakhruddin (Germany), Botanist Dr. Mehwish Maqbool (Bhimbar), Education and Social Development Expert Shah Shoaib Hashmi (UK). , environmentalists Dr. Siddique Awan and Dr. Basiruddin Qureshi, former DG Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and IUCN member Raja Razzaque and others were involved.
The participants of the talk agreed that forests are indispensable for human survival but they are being cut down ruthlessly, posing serious threats to humans and wildlife. Mass afforestation and public awareness are needed to reduce pollution hazards. The participants strongly demanded that public committees be formed to protect forests from fire. Trained personnel should be deployed to deal with large-scale fires and safety equipment should be provided and zig-zag construction methods should be adopted to reduce the harmful effects of brick kilns and the government should provide loans to the kiln owners. Kiln owners should be obliged to plant trees in the affected areas to improve the environment.
Dr. Muhammad Ishtiaq said that poor-quality coal is being used in brick kilns in Bhimbar, which is affecting the health of the workers and adjacent populations, crops, and forests. Government institutions, civil society, and people should work together to deal with environmental pollution. Government and factory owners should fulfill their responsibilities for the health and education of children and other workers working in factories. Trees should be planted around parks and roads. Green belts should be built near the factories. There is a need to build check dams on the rivers.
Education and community development expert Shah Shoaib Hashmi (UK) expressed regret over the absence of a garbage disposal system in Bhimbar and other cities and said that the local government and municipalities should dispose of garbage in a scientific manner. Institutions should start a modern system of recycling. Where is global funding for reforestation going? It needs to be questioned.
Agricultural lands and trees are being destroyed in the name of housing societies. But there is no one to ask them. Destruction of trees that give oxygen to human life in the greed of materialism is sad. Those who sowed a pine tree do not think that it takes three years for its seed to develop. The government and the people should make joint efforts to protect the environment. In the northern regions of Pakistan, the efforts of non-governmental organizations have been successful in raising the awareness of the public for the protection of the environment, which needs to be spread throughout the country with the support of civil society.
Dr. Azhar Fakhruddin (Germany) said that the average temperature of Pakistan is higher than the rest of the world due to indiscriminate deforestation, population growth, environmental pollution, and other factors. Pakistan has been included in the top tier of countries affected by climate change and due to these changes, the temperature has gone up to 53 degrees. Pakistan is among the worst-ranked countries on the air pollution index.
During the last two months, more than half of the forest area in the Bhimber district was burnt to ashes. Six officials of the forest department were injured and two were martyred while fighting the forest fire. There is a question mark in this that the forest department was not aware of this accident. Stone crushing machines in Barnala and Bhimber are causing environmental pollution. The problem of the environment can be solved only by the government and the people together. He added that the forest staff should be provided with fire fighting training and necessary safety equipment. Town committees have to adopt a modern waste disposal system. There is a need to promote the use of eco-friendly materials instead of cement in the construction of houses.
Dr. Mehwish Maqbool said that climate change is a global problem. Man is harming the environment to fulfill his need. Plants and forests act as lungs for our earth and without forests, the existence of human life on earth is in danger. Due to human activities, the ecological balance of the region is deteriorating. The extent of training and awareness of university students. So far, he himself and the environmental department of the university are playing their part, but the problems are so serious that all the sectors of life have to work together under the auspices of the government.
Raja Razzaque, in his written proposals, said that the biggest challenge in the Bhimbar district is the unregulated operation of crushing plants that are wreaking havoc in the area, resulting in the extraction of gravel making the soil extremely uneven. is cut properly. Natural water flow channels have been blocked, resulting in shifting floodplains that are damaging old settlements. Unplanned urban settlements, conversion of fertile agricultural lands into housing sector/societies, deforestation, and loss are major problems.
The recent plantation drive under the billion tsunami was also blocked by the local population which did not yield the desired results. Tobacco threshing/processing factories have been set up in Barnala, causing environmental destruction and pollution. Such plants are banned in Punjab and KP, which is why they are moving to Azad Jammu and Kashmir as a safe haven for their illegal business. Wildlife in the Deva Watala National Park is under threat. The units of brick kilns though fewer are creating havoc for the environment and need to be converted to zigzag technology by the government. The government should help them by providing loans.
Dr. Siddique Awan highlighted the importance of wildlife in the region. He expressed extreme concern over the possible extinction of wildlife in the Bhamber area. He said that the red jungle fowl is almost extinct. Why is the government not paying attention?
Dr. Basiruddin Qureshi supported Dr. Mehwish and said that the world is working on the promotion of forests to deal with climate change, while we are struggling to save the existing forests. Wildlife is also being forced to migrate from its natural habitat due to the anti-environmental actions of man.
Many species of plants, wildlife, and predators are migrating from the plains to the highlands due to unsafe human activities, which is seriously affecting the ecology of the entire region.
The host Mazhar Iqbal Mazhar told the participants that Press for Peace Foundation has been making all-out efforts at the grass root level to highlight the environmental issue in Azad Jammu and Kashmir for the past twenty-two years, which is supported by international and local organizations. Certified and recognized.
In the ongoing awareness campaign to highlight the environmental issues, the public and the conscious and powerful sections of the society have taken a keen interest, which shows that the efforts for positive change in society can be successful together. Publication of books and scholarly and research materials is also being organized under the auspices of the Press for Peace Foundation.
In this Press for Peace Foundation webinar, a large number of people gave useful suggestions to solve environmental problems in the region. Environmental activist Abid Hussain from Bhimbar said that a poor drainage system is the result of groundwater pollution. A forest firefighter earns 500 rupees a day while the community of this area sleeps unaware. Being the region with the lowest employment rate despite the highest literacy rate, young people migrate to other countries. There is no waste disposal system. There is a dialysis center for the patients without any research into the cause of the disease. He also said that the mining activity is going on without any check and balance system.
Environmental engineering is lacking with regard to stone crushing units. Soil erosion is increased. Factors like soil fertility, water harvesting structures, and water table are noteworthy.
The writer is an author, educationist, and environmentalist. He can be contacted via Twitter @MIMazhar or email at [email protected]