Over 200 forest fires in different districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have damaged 14,430 acres of forests and pastures in the last two weeks.
According to a report compiled by the provincial Department of Forests, Environment and Wildlife, of the 210 forest fires, about 55 were deliberately started by locals and 12 were attributed to dry weather. The cause of 143 more fires could not be ascertained. The figures are based on daily situation reports prepared by the department between May 23 and June 9.
Meanwhile, fresh fires erupted in the mountains and forests of Swat on Monday as authorities claimed to have doused over 70 fires in different locations of the district since June 1. According to district administration officials, an operation was underway to control the fresh fires, which broke out in the hills of Babuzai, Barikot, Charbagh, Khwazakhela and Kabal tehsils. Meanwhile, the fire in the mountains of Marghuzar – a popular tourist destination in Swat – could not be extinguished on the third day as it extended to Manyar, Gahalegey, and other mountains of Barikot tehsil.
According to Latif-ur-Rehman, a spokesman for the department, rumors were circulating in the affected areas that the government would compensate for the damage caused to the forests by the forest fires. Citing reports from divisional forest staff members, he said it was rumored that the government would pay Rs100,000 for a green tree burned in a forest fire, insisting that there was no truth in the reports. He added that due to these rumors, people started 55 fire incidents.
The spokesman said the department had registered an FIR and arrested at least 21 people in connection with the arson. The rumors are baseless and the government has not announced any compensation for the trees destroyed in the forest fire. He said the forest department and district administration were investigating the cause of the remaining 143 fires to determine whether the fire was caused by human involvement or dry weather. The report said most of the fires were in dry grass, with 68 percent of communal and private land and more than 73 percent of the affected areas either communal or private land.
Rising temperatures, a key indicator of climate change, are evaporating excess moisture from the ground, drying out the soil, and making plants more flammable, according to the report. At the same time, the winter snow is melting about a month ago, meaning the forests are drying up for a long time. As the drought and heat continue with increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, the forest department fears more wildfires in the coming years.
The report also includes data from the Pakistan Meteorological Department, which recorded a record low rainfall in the last few months due to changes in climatic patterns. Month rank, with Punjab (89%), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (79%), and Baluchistan (78%), Azad Jammu and Kashmir (56%) and Gilgit-Baltistan (51%). Rainfall was below normal in all parts of the country.
According to the report, tourists visiting forests for recreational purposes accidentally cause forest fires and this year, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Forest Department has launched social media campaign to inform tourists during March and April. The largest awareness campaign was conducted by distributing banners, pamphlets and brochures. Which is also appreciated by the civil society. Forest-dependent communities traditionally burn dry grass to obtain soft grass for livestock, which sometimes leads to forest fires due to unusual winds and community behavior.
Demand for agricultural land has multiplied due to population growth and land is being set on fire to clear it (April to June). Warring factions burn other people’s agricultural produce and trees, resulting in large-scale forest fires, such as the Sherani and Shangla forest fires. The KP Forest Department and the Wildlife Department are designed to protect designated areas – so a joint action plan needs to be developed with private and communal forest owners before the start of the next fire season. Assign assigned roles and responsibilities to ensure effective and timely firefighting in private forest areas.
Under the Billion Tree Forestation Project and now the 10-Billion Tree Tsunami Project, huge plants have been planted on the properties of non-owners in rural areas, which were previously used by other non-owners as pastures for their livestock. This has led to personal disputes among locals, which could lead to fires. The report said that with investment in the tourism and hospitality sector in the hilly areas, mountains and forest areas with the large scale establishment of private accommodation as well as hotels has damaged forests.