The lake streams running down in the area of Pacha Kalay in district Buner was once overflowed with water, local could be seen fishing on its banks while other busy in swimming in the fresh water. But over the time, these activities become a fairy tale for the locals as the lakes water shrunk into narrow torrent.
With lakes the natural water streams in mountainous areas like Chagharzi, also drying up. In Kas area, a normal day begins with the hunt of water, women take their pots and hike to water stream around 7 Kilometer away from their houses, where too, they wait for hours for their turns.
Saddam Hussain a resident of Kas village told News Lens Pakistan that there were around 10 natural streams in the area but half of them dried up.
“You have no idea, how we manage water for our daily life” said Hussain, “we spend half of the day just to arrange water for daily usage, that too consume with great care”
Hussain claimed that in the village of 450 households, out of every third family, one has migrated to other areas including Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi due to water scarcity.
Unlike other areas, in district Buner, the basic source of Lake Stream’s water is surrounding mountains of the valley where springs’ water merge to form streams. A few decades back these mountains were covered with thick forests but it seems deserted when its smuggled wood found place in markets of adjacent cities.
Zaheer Ali, a local resident of Pacha Kalay remained engaged in Pine’s timber smuggling from 2001-02. During this time period he transported tons of timber to adjacent Mardan city. “To be the part of deforestation in the valley was not only regretful for me but anguished too. What I could do, I had to earn bread & butter for my family” Ali recalled
To Ali, hundreds of thousands tons timber smuggled in last few decades outside Buner. These timbers would be loaded in the hidden section of the Lorries and exported to Mardan which was the largest market of Buner’s timber. Ali added, “In the hidden section of lorry they would adjust around 10 pairs of cylindrical shape timber use for forming the structure of charpoy, a traditional bed used in most part of the country”.
“The officials of forest department were also part of the cartel. On every check post they would charge Rs.200 for the clearance of a lorry making a huge sum at the end of the day”. According to Ali, Timber for Charpoy was devastating for the forest, as the wood comes from the cutting of young Pine trees. Every day, on an average one dealer would smuggle around 40 pairs of Charpoy timber which cost 3 trees.
At that time there were 6 person attached with timber smuggling alone in Ali’s area, an average of which shows cutting of more than 4,000 trees per annum in a single area.
To meet energy shortages, the local community too, responsible for the deforestation. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics record shows that only 0.28 percent of the population of Buner has the access to the gas. The rest of the population depends on forest fuel wood. The demand increases during winter Thousands of tons forest timber such as Pine is used excessively by the locals each year.
In Pakistan the total estimated forest cover is 4.47 million hectare, which is 5.1 percent of the land area under forest and tree cover states the World Bank report. According to the report of World Bank, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has the highest forest cover making it 32.7 percent of the country. The report says although there is no regular system of assessing, monitoring and sharing forest data. But the available statistics show 0.75 percent deforestation rate in the natural forest or 27,000 hectare per year in the country due to mismanagement and exploitation of forest cover.
Data of ICMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) shows the net forest area in district Buner was 41040 hectare in 1987. It further explains that the forest was under illicit felling, lopping and smuggling at that time. Where, alone grazing costs cutting of hundreds of Chir, Kail, and deodar seedlings each year. Almost the same data of 41001 hectare of un-cultivated forest cover were reported till 2011-12 in Development Statistics of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, the sudden downfall in 2016-17 reached to 31075 hectors, an alarming decline of 22 percent (1,96,992 Kanals).
District Forest Officer, Ahmad Jalil told News Lens Pakistan, “due to law and order situation in district Buner form 2007 to 2009, deforestation was at the peak, however, there is no proper study of that era to calculate its real magnitude”. To Jalil, the area of Gokand and Chagharzi remained protected from deforestation compare to Kalail and Elum Mountain perhaps due to accessibility. However, he refrained to comment on the deforestation in previous decades while stating that he assumed the charge few years back, he might not be able to explain the real motive behind it. Under Billion Tree Tsunami project, plantation is done on 5,435 hectare in various area of Buner, Jalil noted.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Climate Change Policy attributes deforestation as one of the primary reasons for the exploitation of groundwater in the province, among others like population growth and climate change. The policy further, raises concerns that the shrinking water storage capacity and water stress per capita may result in the fall of surface water availability.
Muhammad Ayaz, one of the tube-well drillers in Buner, is attached to the profession for more than two decades. He had dug out hundreds of tube wells in the area. “There is a sharp decline in the water level in recent time”, Ayaz disclosed.
“The state of water depletion started 4 to 5 years back, since then we have witnessed an alarming situation of groundwater depletion,” Ayaz told News Lens Pakistan. “ In Salarzi area of Buner the groundwater level depletes by almost 100 feet, dwindling from 150 feet to 250 feet now”, he briefed.
According to Ayaz water depletion is not just limited to Salarzi area, its level lowered in other parts too, like Gadazi and Ashezi area where the water depleted by 10 to 12 feet now.
Dr Jawad Ali, Deputy Director Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, an organization works on sustainable water management, considers large-scale deforestation one of the reasons behind drying up streams and groundwater depletion.
Dr Jawad believes that the tobacco industry, fuelwood and large-scale smuggling might lead to large-scale deforestation ultimately resulting in water depletion.
“If there is no alternative fuel arrangement in the locality such as the natural gas, the locals will eventually cut down the trees even if they are sent behind the bars”.
Deforestation and climate change in the area also lead to a lower rainfall. According to Regional Meteorological Department Peshawar, due to lack of observatory in Buner, there is no record of rainfall. However, the closest observatory to Buner is of Saidu Sharif shows there was on average 1,100 mm annual rainfall from 1974-1994, Following 20 years from 1995-2014, the average annual rainfall dropped to 900 mm, a descend of annual 200 mm rainfall.
“With this decline in rainfall, its pattern also changed over the years”, said Director Regional Meteorological Department Peshawar, Syed Mushtaq Ali Shah.
“After 1995 winter rainfall in KP has dropped while it intensified during summer”, said Shah. “After nineties, the rain pattern of October and November shifted to dry months, sometimes even December”.
Shah says that due to the intensified rainfall in summer, the water goes straight to rivers. Adding that, all this resulted in underground water depletion in almost all over the province.
To counter the emerging water crisis in Pakistan, a National Water Policy was devised in 2018, which describes the country moving towards water shortage. The draft of the policy says “the per capita surface water availability in the country has been declined from 5,260 cubic meters per year in 1951 to around 1000 cubic meter in 2016”, predicting that “in 2025 the country status will be shifted from a “water-stressed” to “water scarce” country”.
The policy with so many other steps suggests the establishment of Ground Water Authorities to provinces so that to issue, establish and enforce standards for the development and utilization of groundwater.
In line with the National Water Policy, KP government started working on Integrated Water Management Strategy which will ensure coordination between various departments related to water management. While, in addition to it, will ensure monitoring by shifting groundwater from free form to controlled one.
To Afsar Khan, Deputy Director Climate Change Cell, Environmental Protection Agency, climate change is the focus and priority area of KP government.
“From last five years, 159 projects related to climate change, which amounts to 7.5 percent of the budget are in the pipeline” said Khan “these projects are in seven sectors including Water, urban planning, forestry, wild life, irrigation, transportation and energy”
The work done in these seven sectors includes projects like Billion Tree Tsunami, small dams’ project, adaptation in water sector and watershed management. Khan is confident that the projects will have a positive impact on biodiversity and overall climate of the province in near future.