Unique system to protect forests working well in Tirah

Shan Afridi & Iftikhar Khan

TIRAH: Malang Jan, a resident of Tirah Maidan area of Khyber tribal district, fears that he will not be able to manage the marriage of his two sons this year if the tribal elders did not lift ban on trees cutting in the forests.

Badanr, which means lifting of embargo on trees cutting, is like a festival for the tribesmen of Tirah. During this period, they fulfil their year-long needs relating to forest wood. Malang Jan says he has completed basic structure of a new house for the wedding of his two sons and he is waiting for the lifting of embargo to complete the building and finalise the wedding arrangements.

A 20-member committee of the local tribal elders decided which family will get how many trees during the Badanr. The committee is known as Shalgoon which is entrusted with the task of ensuring security of the forests. Despite militancy, military operations and climate change, the forests of Tirah are still thick and green due to the efforts of Shalgoon committee.

In the tribal areas, the ownership of mountains and forests is distributed on the basis of tribes and sub-tribes. Even the tribal elders don’t know who introduced these traditions, but they are unanimous on the fact that these traditions are keeping these forests secure and green. Every tribe has its representatives in the Shalgoon and watchmen guarding the forests.

Malang Jan hails from Umarkhel sub-tribe of Malikdinkhel tribe in Tirah valley. Abdus Salam, a member from his tribe, has been entrusted the responsibility of guarding 500X3000 yards area of forests in Tirah for the last 18 years. He has built a one-room house in the middle of the forest to perform his duty.

The house only serves as a shelter, while basic facilities like electricity, water and routes etc are missing. He has five children, but none of them go to school as no school is available near their home.

Abdus Salam says the tribal elders took oath from him while entrusting him the duty that he will protect the forest like his children and will never make any compromise in performing his duty.

Every family in his respective sub-tribe is bound to pay him a specified quantity of wheat, maize or other agricultural products and the proportional amount of money as remuneration to the forest guard.

If forest guards like Abdus Salam catches anyone cutting the forest trees during Nagha (embargo) then he brings the matter into the notice of the tribal elders who then impose fine on the violators.

“The violators of Nagha are fined twice the amount than those who violate the Nagha during day-time and the fine amount is spent on the welfare activities within the tribe,” Abdul Salam said.

Forests occupy only 3 percent area of Khyber tribal district, while forests in rest of the tribal districts were also damaged during militancy and military operations as most of the militant sanctuaries were situated inside thick forests. Out of total 12,000 acres forested land, the forests of Tirah Madan are spread over 4,000 acres land and these forests are still secure due to the tradition of Nagha.

Dr Bashir Ahmed Mohmand, a forests and agriculture expert, says most displaced people who returned after military operations used the forest wood to reconstruct their damaged houses. However, he said, the forests grew again and no major damage was done.

Dr Bashir, who is a former head of Climate Change Department of KP, says Pakistan is on seventh number as far as global climate change effects are concerned and it is imperative that the existing forests must be saved and more trees are planted to minimise the effects of global warming.

According to the Long Term Climate Risk Index, climate change caused about 10,500 deaths in Pakistan during the last 10 years in shape of floods, glacier melting, strong winds and other such calamities which also caused losses of Rs400 billion.

Besides spread of industries and pollution, he said, the cutting of trees is also one of the major reason behind global warming. He said increase in the ratio of carbon dioxide causes melting of glaciers and floods. Dr Bashir said the pattern and timings of rains have also changed in our region, adding that the areas with lesser forests are likely to be most affected by global warming.

The people of Tirah say they are extremely concerned over the change of weather patterns in the area for the last few years.

Musa Khan, an elderly tribesman, told TNN that last year snowfall happened just once during the winter and this year too only the mountain peaks have received snowfall while there is no snow on lower mountains so far. He said Tirah used to receive snowfall from five to seven times a year, but now the situation has changed.

Musa Khan believes that the increase in the use of vehicles and machines and change in the living style of people has caused environment change in Tirah. He says the situation will go from bad to worse if industries are brought to Tirah.

Dr Bashir says the changed weather patterns in the region have also affected the weather pattern of Tirah. He says cattle and chicken farms can be a beneficial business in an area like Tirah. He said the preservation of forests is must and the procedure of the tribesmen in this regard is best.

It seems Malang Jan will have to wait for a year for the wedding of his sons and the elders of Umarkhel tribe have decided against lifting the Nagha this year.

Haji Naseeb Khan, the chief of the Shalgoon committee, says it has been decided in best interest of all the tribesmen that Nagha will not be relaxed this year and no cutting will be allowed in forests. He says Badanr was announced for two consecutive years last time, so this time Nagha will remain enforced for two years.