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Dr Abdul Qadir

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Dr Abdul Qadir

PhD in Environmental Biology

Jahangir’s World Times: In which category would you place the loss of Lahore’s tree cover?
Dr Abdul Qadir (DAQ): Lahore is losing its green cover fast, though it cannot be said that it is going on at a high pace, yet it is happening at an alarming rate.
JWT: What negative implications this loss of tree cover is having on the city?
DAQ: Trees and greenery have always been a matter of pride for Lahore, fondly called the City of Gardens. Over the past few years, however, the city’s tree cover has also featured in a large number of discussions on development and urbanization. Lahore has lost its 70 percent forest cover in the last 15 years only and this is the biggest reason for the increased smog in the city which is responsible for degradation of socio-economic conditions here.
JWT: What are the principal causes behind Lahore’s depleting tree cover?
DAQ: Shrinkage of urban green spaces has led to disruption of ecological balance. Population growth, industrial expansion, development activities and land encroachment reduce the vegetation cover of metropolitan cities, including Lahore. As urbanization and pollution is increasing all over the world, many cities experience high population-growth rates, causing degradation to the local environment like noise and carbon pollution, soil erosion, and habitat and species loss.
JWT: Why Lahore’s tree cover must be protected and expanded?
DAQ: It is really important that Lahore should be greener than it is at present because the city is poised to be among the top 30 cities of the world in terms of urban population by 2025. Lahore was ranked 56th in the world in 1975 and 38th in 2007, while it will be at 24th position in 2025. During the last few decades, rapid urbanization has played a pivotal role in socioeconomic prosperity of cities of developing countries and, therefore, remained an area of prime concern among scientists, policymakers and city managers.
JWT: How much area of Lahore is currently covered by trees and what it should actually be?
DAQ: From 2001 to 2020, Lahore lost 252ha of tree cover, equivalent to a 16% decrease in tree cover since 2000, and 70.6kt of CO₂e emissions. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every city is recommended to provide a minimum of 9 square metres of urban green space for each person, provided that it should be accessible, safe and functional. The WHO also suggests that an ideal amount of urban green space can be generously provided as much as 50 square metres per person.
JWT: How many additional trees should be planted in Lahore every year?
DAQ: Around 500 million trees will be planted across Punjab in five years, while nine million trees will be planted during the current year. Currently, there are 21 trees per acre in Punjab, including Lahore, are being planted. Our goal is to increase this ratio to 28 trees per acre by 2025.
JWT: Should these trees should be of species native to this area or some alien species can also be used for this purpose?
DAQ: Environment experts believe that planned landscapes and gardens are essential for a metropolitan city. Unfortunately, Lahore has become the biggest victim of this ‘trend’ in which expensive ornamental plants and trees are replacing the indigenous and far more environmentally friendly species such as Neem, Thraik, Jaaman, Mango, and Kikar. The benefits of growing fruit trees or local species are plenty. Local species have more environmental and ecological benefits as compared to exotic species.
JWT: Should we choose plant species on the basis of their ecological significance or keep in view only the aesthetic aspects?
DAQ: For the past few years, Lahore has seen frenzied activity in the name of development and rapid urbanization. As part of most projects, the provincial capital has been divested of hundreds of its native trees, including fruit trees, all of which have been replaced — in what ought to be called an ill-advised government moot — by ornamental trees, chiefly of date and palm variety. The result is degradation of ecosystem and environment in a city already battling air pollution and smog.
So, it is clear that we should focus on the environmental benefits of the plants rather than just focusing on the aesthetics.
JWT: Can planting exotic species be beneficial for Lahore?
DAQ: In general, exotic species have growing rates much greater than that of the native species; therefore, they produce more wood per unit of area and time. In the tropics, exotic species could grow 5 to 10 times more wood than native species. So, it would be beneficial for Pakistan to introduce selective exotic plant species that are fast-growing, more economic, and environment-friendly.
JWT: What types of trees should be planted during the tree-plantation campaigns?
DAQ: Environmentalists say the benefits of growing fruit trees or local species are plenty. Fruits trees grow well in urban areas and attract exotic or small birds, which add to the beauty of the city. Planting fruit trees is helpful also in creating a clean environment as it produces more oxygen than the ornamental trees do. We can choose different indigenous environmental-friendly species like, Neem, Thraik, Jaaman, Mango, and Kikar.
JWT: If we fail to protect the existing tree cover or plant more trees, can it result in a large-scale human tragedy?
DAQ: The country’s deforestation rate has been estimated between 0.2 and 0.5 percent per annum, the highest in the world accounting for four to six percent decline in its wood biomass per annum, an LHC verdict has deplored.
If we do not act on this urgency now, then we can lose the intangible benefits from forest, including oxygen production, watershed value, scenic benefits, ecosystem synergism and a variety of other values essential for human health and quality of life which can eventually lead to major catastrophe and danger to life on earth.
JWT: Is it better to plant forests in Lahore? And, what technique among Miyawaki, roadside plantation, and horizontal planting should be preferable for that purpose?
DAQ: The roadside horizontal plantation is important to cope with traffic pollution. But it is, along with Miyawaki forest, necessary for clean sustainable development of Lahore. Former PM Imran Khan inaugurated the largest urban Miyawaki forest project. The forest covers 12.5 acres and has more than 165,000 plants. Officials say the trees are expected to grow 10 times faster than normal due to the Miyawaki technique of planting them close together. The forest is one of 53 such sites in Lahore that are expected to work as carbon sinks. The city of 10 million has grappled with smog in recent years that has forced schools to close and earned it a ranking among the world’s most polluted cities.
JWT: What steps should be taken at policymaking level and then the implementation thereupon?
DAQ: Environment policies are important part of the sustainable urban development, any measure by a government or corporation or other public or private organization regarding the effects of human activities on the environment, particularly those measures that are designed to prevent or reduce harmful effects of human activities on ecosystems.
It is important at governmental level that the government should introduce effective policies that can be implemented and achievable in given timeframe. For example, Pakistan’s federal government launched its own Green Pakistan programme, which aims to plant 100 million trees in five years across the country. Protecting existing forests. Likewise, we can take a look upon the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government-initiated a unique forestry programme called the Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project to increase forest cover in the province which will be restoring and rehabilitating the environment.
JWT: People prefer such types of trees that grow fast. What, in your expert opinion, are the plants that do not create problems related to fast growth but are also compatible with the native climate?
DAQ: People do like to grow fast-growing plants because of their economic benefits. The common fast-growing species that are grown in Pakistan are, Sesbania, semal, Euclyptus, Empress Splendor, etc.
JWT: Should there be an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to ensure that only the right type that is compatible with the place, environment and climate is planted? What steps should be taken in this regard?
DAQ: Yes, the EIA is necessary for every development project in the country. EIA is not just for commercial compliance; it is important that we do it in our green project to analyze the feasibility of the species we introduce in the environment.

The writer can be contacted at: misteratif@yahoo.com

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