The forgotten tree
Sindh was declared the hottest place on earth in April 2018, when the temperature crossed 50 degrees Celsius in Nawabshah on the last day of the year’s fourth month breaking its own record of 49.2 degrees Celsius recorded in 2017. In Sindh, the urban areas have expanded exponentially with drastic reduction in green cover. Deforestation is a crucial environmental, social and economic challenge that affects the ecosystem, human health, increases poverty besides the temperature. Trees play a significant role in maintaining a healthy environment. Trees affect our climate, and therefore our weather, in three primary ways as they lower temperature, reduce energy usage and reduce or remove air pollutants. Each part of the tree contributes to climate control, from leaves to roots.
Trees and other vegetation should not be blindly planted without studying or understanding the ecology of the land area. Species must be planted as per the region and the present forest cover so that they may be regenerated according to their natural history. Eucalyptus, imported from Australia, consumes 90 litres of water a day with the result that the level of groundwater in Karachi and several other cities has decreased by twice or more from the previous levels. Subsequently, Conocarpus also known as the Ethiopian Teak, was planted in many parts of Karachi. This fast-growing tropical specie has seen almost ten years of existence in the city. Conocarpus is double curse. It is as thirsty as the eucalyptus and to make matters worse, it is more allergy inducing than Islamabad’s paper mulberry. However, Dubai learnt its lesson quickly from the sewage lines damaged by conocarpus roots and from increased cases of hay fever and asthma. The introduction of new, non-native species of plants and animals can have dire effects for the environment. Biological invasion is a form of biological pollution that is probably more disastrous than the chemical pollution, therefore considered as the second greatest global threat to biodiversity after habitat destruction. Invasive plants are characterised to be long lived, voracious, aggressively pervasive, very resilient, showing rapid growth with the ability to move long distances and prolific breeding as these plants appear to have specific traits or a combination of traits that allow them to compete with native plant species
The Sindh Government had declared Neem the ‘Provincial Tree’ through a notification issued on 22 April 2010. This author was part of the process, which was jointly initiated by the Indus for All Programme, WWF- Pakistan and the Sindh Forest Department. There should have been campaigns to promote plantation of Neem Tree along with other indigenous species at a wider scale. On the contrary, invasive species of trees are being promoted. Invasive species have a number of negative impacts on the areas that they invade. The most significant of these is the widespread loss of habitat.
In Pakistan, Neem is found in Sindh and some parts of southern Punjab. According to the official data of the Sindh Forest Department, the Neem trees in Umerkot, Hyderabad and Karachi districts are the oldest in the province. During the British rule, Neem was planted at railways stations and the embankments of canals to maintain a healthy environment. The Neem brings other environmental benefits such as flood control and reduced soil erosion. It helps in restoring and maintaining soil fertility, which makes it highly suitable in agro-forestry. It is a source of good timber, is durable and termite resistant; Neem wood is used in making fence posts, poles for house construction, furniture, etc. It is a good source of firewood and fuels. As a source of shade, it is excellent for parks, roadsides, etc. The Neem tree is noted for its drought resistance. It has high medicinal value. It is one of the very few shade-giving trees that thrive in drought-prone areas. It is a fast-growing evergreen tree with a very dense crown.