Not many of us know that Pakistan has one of the world’s largest juniper forests. Juniper trees are unique as they grow about an inch a year. Comparing the rate of growth with the size of the trees found in the Ziarat area, some trees are estimated to be more than 2,500 years old.
This precious forest is presently threatened by increasing population and hence the growing need for more residential space and expansion of agriculture. The trees are being ruthlessly cut down as the local communities require wood for cooking, heating and construction.
Due to absence of options, people migrating from Ziarat to the barren, low lying areas during the winter usually cut down trees and carry their fuel stock with them for the entire winter season. Considering the conservation of juniper forests as well as livelihood resources of the local communities, NGOs are working on several projects.
In addition to the use of juniper trees for construction of houses as well as for firewood, juniper wood is used to construct flood protection walls to save farmlands and orchards as well as to reinforce inner walls of water wells.
According to an estimate, a 300 feet protection wall requires wood from approximately 20-30 juniper trees. With the support of local communities, the IUCN has replaced traditional construction practices by building stone walls for flood protection. This model is being replicated by local communities, other NGOs and donor organisations working in those areas, hence saving the juniper forest.
The juniper tree has soft wood which burns fast, therefore as compared to other trees more juniper wood is consumed for cooking and heating. An NGO has distributed fuel efficient stoves among communities.
As an alternative energy source in remote and inaccessible areas, 10 solar water geysers and 12 solar electricity panel systems have been installed in collaboration with Pakistan Council for Renewable Energy Technologies (PCRET). This has helped reduce energy cost, and in conserving ancient Juniper trees.
Local communities have been motivated to plant trees in their farmlands. For this purpose, a container plant nursery has been established to promote social forestry which has produced and distributed more than 60,000 plants among communities since its commencement.
To increase environmental awareness, green clubs have been organised in local schools and colleges. Shaista Kakar, a student of grade 9, at the Government Girls High School in Ziarat says, “Before Green clubs were organised, I did not know much about the importance of trees, but now I water juniper trees growing around my house daily and get others to do the same.”
“Forests are like lungs for the earth. If these lungs are healthy, the entire humankind would be healthy,” says, Inam Ullah Khan, Project Manager, IUCN, Ziarat.