Dying forests

IT was a fitting opening for a distressing piece of writing: death on a large scale, but not of the sort that Pakistan has come to associate with the unfortunate land of Balochistan. The report, published in this newspaper on Tuesday, chronicles how the Pinus halepensis species, otherwise known as the Quetta pine tree, is dying out in the province. The word for it in botany is ‘dieback’, a condition where branches or shoots start dying from the tip of the tree, heading inwards and downwards. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi or even certain environmental conditions. In the case of Balochistan’s majestic pine forests — at one time amongst the world’s largest — the decimation seems to be the result of an unfortunate convergence of a variety of factors. These include climate change and its consequences, overgrazing and the felling of trees for fuel, a sinking water table, and the growing practice of using wastewater — which is loaded with toxins — for irrigation purposes. As a result, these ancient forests, many of them hundreds of years old, are slowly, silently, inexorably dying.

Given the irreversibility of this situation, there are many aspects to mourn. Shall we dwell upon the increasing unavailability and expensiveness of the delicate pine nut, once sourced from the country’s largest province in such abundance? Or shall the residents of the province recall the distinctive sound the wind once made as it whistled through the pine needles, an experience fewer and fewer among the younger generation are having a chance to savour? Perhaps the mourning must be cumulative, for Balochistan together with other parts of the country, is continuing to lose its rich biodiversity. Unfortunately, across Pakistan, a rich natural inheritance is being squandered — from the markhor and snow leopards in the icy north to the mangroves and marine life along the coastline, despite some conservation efforts. Have we even the will to genuinely attempt a pushback?

Editorial. Dying forests. Dawn, September 27, 2017.

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