Pakistan Illegal Lumber Harvest Extended Flood Damage

Posted on August 17, 2010

Deforestation globally is now taking a noticeable toll.  With approximately 1/5 of Pakistan affected by flooding, experts are looking more closely at the illegal lumber harvests that have taken place for decades:

Experts… believe the water levels rose at an alarming rate and say that inadequate forest cover in the north-west of the country was largely to blame for the intensity of the floods.

Shakil Qadir, the provincial head of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), has highlighted the role of deforestation in Swat, Dir, Hazara and Gilgit Baltistan.

Pakistan has only 5.2 per cent forest cover, but had it had the necessary 20 to 25 per cent, the ferocity of the floods would have been minimised and the damage caused far milder.

Syed Said Badshah Bukhari, the director-general of Pakistan Forest Institute, says that by trapping rain water in leaves, branches and roots, forests serve to slow down the flow of flood water. In contrast, deforested areas become more susceptible to flooding and landslides.

But the absence of forests to slow down the flow of flood water was not the only way in which deforestation contributed to the scale of the disaster.

Illegal logging

The destruction of bridges left many
areas cut off [AFP]

Locals say that in Dir, Swat and Nowshera, the floods swept away large amounts of lumber and that at one point the River Panjkora contained so much wood that the surface appeared to be black.

Much of this timber had been stored in ravines by the country’s powerful timber mafia, which engages in illegal logging, while it was awaiting transportation to the south. Dislodged by the floods and swept away by the water, the timber destroyed almost all of the bridges in its path and filled the Turbela Dam Reservoir.

The Taliban have been active in protecting the illegal lumbering:

Pakistan’s forests have always come under immense strain, but Sarhad Awami Forestry Ittehad (SAFI), a local organisation that works to protect them, says that in parts of Malakand more than 70 per cent of forests were illegally cut down between 2007 and 2009 when the Pakistani Taliban controlled the region.

“Forests were cut ruthlessly by the timber mafia under the protection of the militants,” says Riaz Ahmad Khan, the president of SAFI. The organisation says the Taliban made large sums of money working in collaboration with the timber mafia. “At the moment more than two million feet of timber is flowing in Turbela Dam only.

“Thousands of trees were uprooted by the flash flood, which further damaged the existing forest cover.” [English AlJazeera]

Pakistan is not the only area country to be involved in deforestation.  It is a tremendous problem in Afghanistan as well.  Our troops have been better able to keep up with the trade than in the past with the additional personnel sent over this year.  It is a trade that is more lucrative than drugs or gemstones.

In Kunar province, American officials said, most of the illegal timber comes from the Korengal Valley and is moved down the Kunar River. The timber is loaded onto the backs of donkeys and transported across the border. In Pakistan, it is used to make expensive furniture. []

Imagine how many people have died in the name of drugs, diamonds and expensive furniture.