A wooded area on the outskirts of town shows the scars of extensive logging in Islamabad, Pakistan, on 14 January 2014. Severe energy shortages are turning even wealthier families into wood scavengers. Photo: Tim Craig / The Washington Post

By Tim Craig
1 February 2014

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Washington Post) –  Ramesh Iqbal lives in one of the Pakistani capital’s middle-class neighborhoods and attends college. But on a recent day, he and two friends emerged from a wooded area, their arms full of the logs and branches they had to gathered to warm their homes.

“We never thought we would face such a situation,” said Iqbal, 24, wearing a sweater over a collared shirt. “But due to winter, and cold, we are facing problems.”

In a country where about 20 percent of residents lack basic utilities, generations of poor and rural Pakistanis have relied on timber to make it through the winter. But severe energy shortages are turning even wealthier families into wood scavengers.

They snap branches, uproot saplings and hack trees, and they carry their bounty any way they can — by truck, motorcycle and even bicycle. And with each trip, Pakistan loses another piece of its tree canopy, an alarming trend for one of the world’s least forested countries.

Environmentalists and government officials fear Pakistan is now at a tipping point, having retained just 2 to 5 percent of its tree cover. Officials fear the deforestation will contribute to more lethal floods, disruptive landslides, bacteria-ridden drinking water and stifling air pollution. The country may also become more vulnerable to climate change.

“This is a very dangerous situation for Pakistan,” said Pervaiz Amir, a local forestry and agriculture expert. “The middle class are now cutting trees and burning trees.”

But convincing the public of the value of tree cover has been a tough sell, especially this year, when electricity is out for up to 10 hours each day and the natural gas supply is often too low to power heaters and stoves.

Even in Islamabad, known as one of the greenest capitals in Asia because of the nearby Margalla Hills National Park, wooded areas and vacant lots are being slashed, leaving behind rows of twisted, yellow, ankle-high sapwood. [more]

Energy shortages force Pakistanis to scavenge for wood, threatening tree canopy [via Wit’s End]

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