KP forest dept lacks specialised resources to control wildfires

14 June 2019

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PAKISTAN – PESHAWAR: Though billions of rupees have been invested in the province to increase forest cover, the forest department does not have specialised resources to control wildfires, which destroyed small and mature green trees over large swathes of land in four districts during the last few days.

The department’s officials said in the absence of firefighting system, the blazes were controlled with the help of shovels, mattocks and other tools.

Conspicuously, the wildfires erupted in those areas, mostly in Mardan and Swabi districts, where the provincial government had carried out massive plantation under its signature Billion Tree Tsunami afforestation programme during the last five years.

Officials surprised to see fire erupt in areas where massive plantation was carried out in five years

“We are astonished to hear that the wildfires erupted simultaneously in six or seven areas where trees were planted during the last five years,” said Mardan divisional forest officer (DFO) Tariq Khadim.

He told Dawn on Thursday that a committee had been formed to probe the forest fire incidents.

The committee will submit its report within 10 days, he said.

The opposition parties in and outside the provincial assembly have been demanding investigations into the Billion Tree Tsunami programme.

The departmental inquiries have already been conducted in the project.

The preliminary reports suggest that blaze caused substantial damages to small and mature trees over four square kilometers area in the forests of Gadoon Amazai, Swabi district.

The surface fire has destroyed plants and trunks of green trees over 17 hectares of land in Gandaf area.

Officials said a large number of picnickers had rushed to forest covered areas during Eid holidays and cooking might have caused bushfire. They said heat wave could also ignite bushfire in forests.

The wildfire also destroyed trees in Karamar Mountains of Swabi.

Blazes were also reported in Kund area near Nowshera and Haripur districts after Eidul Fitr. Police have arrested several persons in connection with these incidents.

The forest covered area in KP has surpassed one million hectares figure after the execution of over one billion trees afforestation programme, which, according to official estimates, is 20.3 per cent of the total lands of the province.

Despite massive tree plantation and increase in forest cover, the department does not have equipment or firefighting machines to cope with wildfires.

Officials said the forest department used manual methods to contain forest fires in Mardan and Swabi.

They said police, staff of Rescue 1122 and forest guards from neighbouring districts were called in to control fire.

The officials said the fire frequently erupted in forests but the department did not have sufficient resources and tools to protect trees.

“At the movement, the forest department does not have firefighting equipment except manpower to extinguish fires in forests,” said an official, adding that the component of firefighting had been included in the Sustainable Forest Management Project.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2019

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