London/Neelum Valley (27 June 2022) Addressing the participant of a virtual dialogue on the environmental issues of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, experts said on Sunday that the local environment and the ecosystem of the entire Himalayan region are in danger. They said that if forests, rare species of animals, precious birds that act as environment filters, valuable herbs, and ecosystem-balanced plants are not protected, the region would lose its ecological balance.
The environmentalists warned that the timber mafia should be curbed to protect the precious forests of the region. They also said that irregular construction of guest houses in Neelum Valley should be stopped and alternative sources of energy should be provided to the people to stop the relentless deforestation. “If steps are not taken at the grassroots level, we will lose a great deal of national capital, which will have a devastating effect on the local environment and the ecosystem of the entire region,” they said.
Speaking on the environmental issues of Neelum Valley, the speakers unanimously adopted that a massive awareness campaign and steps need to be taken to create awareness among the people about climate change. District-wide steps must be taken in accordance with international norms to promote eco-friendly and sustainable tourism. Necessary changes need to be made in the curriculum to make the new generation aware of the dangers facing the environment.
Prof. Dr. Muhammad Siddique Awan, a top researcher on wildlife, conservation, and biodiversity, said that the growing population, deforestation, the influx of tourists to protected areas, and pollution have resulted in the greenhouse gas effect. He emphasized that both mitigation and adaptation measures were urgently needed to address important environmental issues. He further said that rising greenhouse gas emissions have multiplied the risk of glaciers erupting in the Neelum Valley, which poses a serious threat to the ecological balance of the whole Himalayan region.
He said that we have to make the new generation aware of the dangers facing the mountains and forests through changes in the curriculum. “Local data on climate change is very limited, and more funds are needed for further research into the wise use of water, minerals, and medicinal plants,” he mentioned in his keynote address. The illegal extraction of medicinal plants from the Neelum Valley needs to be stopped and the movement nomads-especially those migrating from the mountains to the plains, also needs to be monitored.
The endangered animals, birds, and other wildlife in the Neelum Valley are our national heritage, which is depriving us of the great national capital by eradicating them through poaching and cruelty. Dr. Siddique Awan, citing the serious effects of climate change on the local climate, said that the monsoon season has now started in the Neelum Valley, which is astonishing and has led to catastrophic glacier eruptions in recent years.
“The growing population has become a major threat to the environment. Due to this, the areas of Athmaqam and Kundal Shahi have now merged, although, in the light of Islamic injunctions, it is necessary to keep a distance of a few kilometers between the two big cities”, he explained by highlighting the need for allocation of green space between cities.
Environmentalists further said that there is no check and balance in the tourism sector as the tourists are spreading pollution in mountainous areas and causing other environmental problems. We need to introduce a proper system to prevent tourists from spreading pollution. They should be given orientation on the protection of local resources.
Sardar Mohammad Akram- a representative of the state forests department while speaking in his personal capacity, said that the forests of Neelum Valley are equal to about half of the forests of the whole state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. And luckily, we have some trees in the area that have become extinct all over Pakistan.
He described that deforestation is not based on scientific principles and that irregularities in deforestation are harming forests and wildlife. The area of forests near population centers is shrinking as human populations are increasingly using forests for fuel and construction. To save the forests, the people need to take ownership of environmental and natural assets as their personal valuables. The government and civil society must work together to save the forests.
Focal Person Tourism Department Khawaja Raisuddin said that due to climate change, the temperature difference between Neelum Valley and Muzaffarabad Valley has remained non-existent and this is due to extraordinary tourism activities. In view of the increasing number of tourists in the Neelum Valley, the concerned agencies should ensure the implementation of the Building Code and other laws to save local resources. Forty-five percent of the non-local tourists visiting Azad Kashmir are going to Neelam Valley. But relevant laws are not being implemented to check the extraordinary number of tourists. There is a need to increase partnerships between local communities and the government to save deforestation, and relevant departments and agencies must play their part in enforcing solid waste and building codes in tourist areas.
Speaking on the objectives of the Press for Peace Foundation’s environmental awareness campaign, host Mazhar Iqbal Mazhar said that the organization has carried out numerous activities on the environment in Azad Jammu and Kashmir in the last two decades including seminars, workshops, community projects, public awareness, and media sensitization campaigns. The purpose of these activities is to raise public awareness of local environmental issues.