Recent floods damaged several sites for afforestation under BTAP

PESHAWAR (APP): The recent floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa damaged several sites for afforestation under the Billion Tree Afforestation Project.
The August 27 devastating floods that started in Mataltan and Kalam valleys in Swat damaged plantation sites, river training programs, nurseries, waterlogs, and other schemes aimed for the said program.
As a result, 52 plantation sites covering 968 hectares of land in Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Kurram, Bajaur, Orakzai, and South Waziristan areas were affected inflicting Rs108.530 million in financial losses.
According to official data, in addition to losses mentioned in the above seven cities, a loss of Rs41.729 million has also been reported from Haripur, Abbottabad, Manshera, and Kohistan districts of the Hazara division.
Damages have also been reported from 60 sites in the Bunner watershed division due to the selection of different plantation sites, bio-engineering schemes, bad land stabilization, check dams, rains water harvesting, nurseries, and water development schemes on 460 hectares of land.
Alike reports of damages to about 96 plantation sites including avenue and moist afforestation were also reported due to alleged bad land stabilization schemes, nurseries, and bio-engineering from Swat, Shangla, Dir Kohistan, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, and Chitral districts. Plantation on 787.23 hectares of land in these districts was also badly affected causing a loss of Rs104.792 million.
Besides these flood-specific losses, there are also reports of alleged irregularities being investigated by the National Accountability Bureau.
Wajid Ali Khan, former Minister for Environment and Forests has described “the ill planning of the provincial government as one the main reasons behind these financial losses”.
“BTAP’s plantations and agreements inked with farmers for the provision of land for afforestation were made in haste as these plantation sites were not meant for premature cutting of a large number of trees by land owners and farmers under the mutual agreements,” he said.
Mentioning recent media disclosures regarding the alleged detection of Rs3.493 billion irregularities during three years (2019-21), Wajid Ali said a “thorough probe is needed to unearth if these facts were true”.
Wajid Ali Khan has also cited that there was a high risk of misappropriation in the establishment of enclosures as the land under GPS measurement was shown as much more than the actual 16,953.74 hectares of land used for plantation.
“These mismatching figures could have resulted in the loss of millions of rupees. The wrong selection of enclosures sites has also marred progress on 10 BTAP’s plantations including merged tribal districts as there is a shortfall of about 450 million plants by that time, against the target set for June 2023.
Depending on forest enclosures to achieve the assigned target of planting additional one billion saplings by 2023 under phase-I of the BTAP project, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government was also feared to miss the target set for the current year.
Commenting on the situation, Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, Deputy Project Director, BTAP said that against the set target of raising 4,300 enclosures in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Kurrum, Orakzai, Khyber, Mohmand, and Bajaur, 2,000 enclosures were established in these districts. “Remaining 2,300 enclosures were shifted to Malakand and Hazara divisions as tribesmen in some areas of the merged districts were reluctant to provide land for afforestation.”
He also hinted at the closure of around 500 enclosures in merged districts mostly in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, and Kurrum due lack of funds. “One enclosure normally costs about Rs180,000 and at least 100 acres of land was required for regeneration of plants.” Ibrahim Khan admitted that river training schemes and bad land stabilization had largely affected afforestation projects during the recent floods and the provincial government would rehabilitate and complete it from its resources.
He said that the the10-BTAP is a Rs 27.3 billion project with an equal share of Rs 13.5 billion of the federal and provincial government. “So far Rs11 billion including Rs5.5 billion each by the Federal and KP governments have been released for 10BTAP.” He said, the audit of the project was underway and all the audit paras would be settled by the departmental committee.
Since our country is one the worst hit territories by climatic changes, therefore it is direly needed that all stakeholders make serious efforts to cope with these challenges that may further aggravate during the days ahead.