By Pakistani correspondent Shah Khalid Shah Jee
Chaotic construction is one of many factors that pollute the environment and it is having a devastating effect. If, on the one hand, the human population is growing rapidly, on the other hand, construction is constantly increasing. And the last ten years have seen a lot of growth. This increase is not just in one region but in the whole world. A lot of developed countries have special planning for the construction of new infrastructure so that it does not harm agricultural lands and the environment. In developing countries like Pakistan however, it is causing a lot of agricultural and environmental problems.
Construction in Pakistan is happening very fast and these changes occur not in years and months but in weeks and days. In this article, I will focus on current developments in the Bajaur district. Bajaur is one of the smallest of the tribal districts in terms of area, but it ranks first in terms of population. Its population is close to 1.2 million, according to the census. As the population is growing rapidly, so are houses and other structures. And this building is still going on.
Twenty years ago, the people of Bajaur mostly preferred to live in villages, and the centuries-old tradition of Pashtuns living together in the village was once very strong, but now it is disappearing. Before, all the brothers of a family lived in one house, but now each of them prefers to live in a separate house. Because of this, people have moved out of the village to agricultural lands. Everyone has built a house for themselves wherever they want on the land. No one cares about the principles of agriculture and the environment. If it is possible for a family to live in a house of five marlas (approx. 125 m2), now they build a house on two kanals of land (approx. 500 m2).
This situation is common in every area of Bajaur. Because of this, agricultural land has been reduced to a great extent because people have built houses on the land which was very good and fertile in terms of agricultural production.
In addition to important agricultural land being covered, all the houses that are now being built are made of solid cement blocks and bricks, which has greatly increased the intensity of heat. It is difficult for the occupants to live comfortably in the summer season in the concrete buildings because they get so hot that they feel like a hot furnace. These buildings do not reflect heat which softens the surrounding environment and makes buildings cool in the summer. This is different for the older mud buildings, which stay cooler longer. I have talked to all the people whose new houses are ready. According to them, the heated rooms in their homes are not usable in winter nor in summer because they are too hot in summer and too cold in winter.
At the same time, another major cause of damage to the environment is from construction itself. There is indiscriminate felling of trees to build buildings. According to the information provided by the Bajaur Forest Department, the total area of Bajaur district is 340,000 acres, of which 45,000 acres have been planted by the Bajaur Forest Department for the last 20 years, as well as 40,000 acres of mountains and natural forests. On the other hand, people in the entire Malakand Division and Bajaur District are in the process of cutting down trees for the construction of buildings and roads. In the past, people used to sit in beds in the cool shade of trees to escape the heat, and most of the villagers slept there in the afternoon, but now that is no longer possible due to the large number of buildings and deforestation. The great trees that had been standing in place for years and were like factories supplying oxygen and were also the signs of our forefathers were removed from the earth by our people for the fulfillment of their worldly desires. It is a painful process but it is tantamount to hostility to the environment.
If, on the one hand, the forest department is working day and night trying to figure out how to increase the forest area, on the other hand, a lot of citizens are turning a blind eye to their efforts. This ruthless felling of trees has significantly reduced the forest area in the region. No one realizes that if they cut down one tree, they should plant another. The more houses or buildings are concentrated in one place, the more an environmentally friendly system can provide for everything. If there is a village in one place and just two houses in another, it would cost the same to provide facilities to two houses as it does to a whole village. Because if these two houses do not want to build a road, they have to dig yards in the agricultural land, just as they have to cut down trees for it. This is adversely affecting the environment. This situation occurs not only in the construction of houses but also in the construction of markets in the bazaars where there is no parking space and no drainage. This is badly affecting the environment but no one is paying attention to the issue of how much damage is being done.
In this way, random buildings are having a devastating effect on the environment as well as agriculture, which no one is paying attention to. According to the documents provided by Bajaur Agriculture Extension Department, the total reported agricultural land in Bajaur is 129036 hectares of which 77062 hectares are cultivable while the rest is barren. Out of 77062 hectares of land, water is available for 15970 hectares and the rest is rainfed.
Zia-ul-Islam Dawar, Ex District Officer, Agriculture Extension Department, Bajaur District, in an exclusive interview with Peshawar Today, said that construction work on agricultural lands in Bajaur District is going on very fast, which is a matter of great concern if it continues like this. In a few years, Bajaur will lose important agricultural lands which will not be replaced because there is already a shortage of agricultural land in Bajaur. Mr Dawar said that in this regard, he has from time to time tried to draw the attention of the district administration to this issue so they can take steps to prevent construction on agricultural lands, but so far no effective steps have been taken. In the past, the FCR (Frontier Crime Regulation) laws and agricultural laws were not the same as in other districts of the province but now that the tribal districts have been integrated with the province, the agricultural laws that were in place in the province will apply here. Now we must hope for the best. Now, on any land on which a building is to be constructed, a NOC (Non-Objection Certificate) has to be obtained from the Department of Agriculture in advance. Apart from this, the agriculture department has also put up flex boards at various places in Bajaur for public awareness and there is wall chalking with slogans against construction on agricultural lands and promoting construction on barren lands. At the same time, periodic awareness sessions are held with landlords and the general public, urging them not to sacrifice their valuable agricultural lands for construction because the lands of Bajaur are very fertile and all kinds of crops, vegetables and fruits give good yields. There are many agricultural benefits from the land.
The Climate Change Cell of the Provincial Environmental Protection Agency started work a few years ago on a policy to mitigate the effects of construction and climate change on agricultural lands, which has been implemented in other districts of the province but only in integrated districts. Efforts are now being made to extend it to the merged districts as well. When Peshawar Today drew the attention of Additional Deputy Commissioner Finance Bajaur Sohail Aziz to this important issue, he said that this is indeed an important issue and he would soon organize a seminar in consultation with the Bajaur Department of Agriculture Extension to make the people aware of this issue and to make them aware that they should avoid construction on agricultural lands and build on barren lands.
The initiatives of the Provincial Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Extension Department of Bajaur are commendable but should be accelerated because the speed with which construction is taking place on the agricultural lands of Bajaur is a matter of concern.
There are effective laws for construction of buildings in Pakistan, although they are not being implemented as they should be in rural areas like ours where they are not enforced. And if there are no laws, a policy should be formulated at the government level as soon as possible to prevent construction and destruction of the environment on agricultural lands, as well as to ensure the provision of basic amenities in remote areas. People should not migrate from their native lands and then build on agricultural lands. On the other hand, the common people also have the responsibility to avoid construction on agricultural lands and build on barren lands. And now that times have changed, they must consult an architect before building a house or other building, and no one can do that without their advice and building plans. Eco-friendly buildings can be constructed. With these measures, we can stop construction on agricultural lands and make our home and surroundings pleasant.