PAKISTAN: No firewood, no hot food
MINGORA, 2 September 2010 (IRIN) – A few kilometres outside Mingora, Swat Valley’s principal city in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Province, a group of village women discuss the various problems they have been facing in the wake of the recent devastating floods – including the lack of firewood, without which they cannot cook.
“Finding timber to light our wood stoves is hard. The flood waters that swept down slopes tore away many of the smaller trees and the woody shrubs we collected and carried home, as well as branches that fell to the ground,” Saadia Bibi, 30, told IRIN. “For us, firewood is everything.”
“We sometimes have to search for over two hours, going further and further afield to collect enough fuel to cook a single meal,” she said, adding that for her and other women, even grazing animals was hard as so many bushes had been destroyed.
There are signs of increasing desperation: “We have had people who have nearly drowned after jumping into a river to get floating wood brought in to us by the currents. They are so poor they are ready to risk their life for a little firewood,” Sabine Nirmajer, who works with the Paris-based charity Médecins Sans Frontières in Mingora, told IRIN.
Several women said deforestation in the Swat area had made their work harder with wood difficult to find. “Damp wood is no good, and the rains have left wood too wet to make a good fire,” said one woman.
The link between deforestation and the recent floods has been highlighted by Ali Habib, director-general of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, who told IRIN from Lahore that deforestation had exacerbated the floods. “Had there been trees, they would have lessened the intensity of the thrust of initial peaks of flood,” he said.
About 4.1 percent of Pakistan’s land area is forest, according to the government. At current rates of deforestation (2-2.4 percent), forest cover would be down to half of its 1995 extent by 2019-2024, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Peach crop hit
The floods in Swat occurred at a time when the peach crop was ready for picking, but many trees were destroyed or had the fruit knocked off them. The media report farmers saying around 60 percent of local fruit and vegetables have been lost to the floods.
“I had a small orchard of peach and apple trees. Most of the 50 or so trees that stood around areas cleared for vegetable plantation have been badly damaged, and some felled totally,” said Hassan Gul, 50, a farmer in the Matta sub-district of Swat, one of the areas worst hit by the floods.
The floods have also affected other food sources: “We used to collect some edible wild greens from the forests around here, but now they have gone,” said Fyza Bibi.