PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Lack of facilities, such as adequate electric supply and natural gas in the rural areas of Pakistan has resulted in the exploitation of fuel wood at an unsustainable rate, resulted, deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, salinity and water logging, non-sustainable agricultural practices and hunting have become major threats to biodiversity in the country.
Only 5.7 percent of the total land area of Pakistan is covered with forests, the rate of depletion continues to be high. Commercial logging and overexploitation of forests by a growing population for fuel, fodder, building materials, resin and charcoal has resulted in crippling the meager forest resources of the country. The effects of deforestation on biodiversity are critical since whole forest ecosystems are destroyed. The disappearance of trees and shrub means that the associated flora and fauna, dependent on the forest, are also lost. Species such as markhors, squirrels, woodpeckers, snails, moths, ferns and mushrooms are also likely to become extinct once tree cover is removed. Deforestation is having particularly grave effects on Baluchistan’s juniper forests, the river in areas of the Indus basin and the coastal mangroves.
Hunting has a long tradition in Pakistan. However, unregulated hunting has resulted in the dwindling of many species of game animals. Some species such as the goitre d gazelle and Marco Polo sheep, are on the verge of extinction. The houbara bustard, Chlamydotis undulata, continues to be hunted by large parties from the Gulf despite the fact that its hunting is prohibited to the locals. Such parties not only vastly exceed the bag limit but also destroy large tracts of vulnerable desert habitats due to off-road driving. Migratory birds are shot for target practice, while other species are hunted for their pelt or meat. As a result, the range of all large mammals has been reduced and they have been forced to live in the most isolated parts of their habitat. Large scale hunting is a threat to biodiversity in Pakistan and will remain so until hunting practices are made compatible with sustainable resource use.
Large numbers of livestock, increasing at a rate of 20 percent every 7 years, have burdened the carrying capacity of Pakistan’s rangelands. In fact the situation is so serious that most rangelands produce less than 30 percent of their capacity. Overgrazing results in the loss of topsoil and water and wind erosion, leaving the soil vulnerable to loss of nutrients and desertification. Land degradation not only reduces production capacity but also results in a decrease in palatable species. Wildlife populations are also at risk when vegetation is reduced; as prey species such as lagomorphs, ungulates and rodents become fewer, the land is unable to support predator populations.
Soil erosion has seriously affected agricultural output, reducing agricultural acreage and grazing areas. It has also led to the siltation of dams, canals, and watercourses which are the lifeline of agricultural production in the country. The storage capacity of the dams has decreased and the desilting of water channels is draining an already impoverished economy.
Salinity and Water logging
Continuous surface irrigation has raised the water-table in the Indus basin, as a result of which large tracts of agricultural land, particularly in Sindh and southern Punjab, are being lost to salinity and water logging. Natural forests, which are rich in biodiversity, could also be affected as a result of this water logging, through clear felling to make more land available.
Non-Sustainable Agricultural Practices
The introduction of high-yielding varieties of crops, chemical pesticides and heavy water application has increased agricultural production in recent years. But this may have a negative impact on agricultural biodiversity. The use of new crop strains hampers the use of local varieties (which are better suited to the environmental conditions of the country) and may even lead to the loss of indigenous strains. Increased use of control agents such as herbicides, fungicides and pesticides inadvertently affects non-target species and contributes to food-chain contamination. Moreover, runoff from fields heavily fertilized with chemicals adds to water pollution and water logging.