Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Open Letter to Two Important Persons

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Syed Abu Ahmad Akif
Federal Secretary
Ministry of Climate Change

6 February 2017

Subject: The Looming Water Scarcity and our Choice of Thirsty Trees

Dear Akif,

Today’s (6 Feb) Dawn carries a report of a conference on the water scarcity that is now a certainty for Pakistan. It is one thing that we are completely mindless of the millions of gallons of clean water wasted every day in official and private bathrooms with leaky WCs. I see it all the time and I can point out at least a few dozen in the building you occupy in Islamabad.

Then there are those educated ignorant who daily have their driveways and cars washed with running garden hoses. Tell them about the upcoming water scarcity and hear, ‘Water is Allah’s gift, it can never run out.’

The government has no scheme to address this wastage. I assure you; simply holding seminars is not going to save our water.

To top it all, since 1960 when Ayub ordered ‘forestation’ in Pakistan we have made only incorrect choices so far as tree species are concerned. First we had eucalyptus, 6 sub-species of it imported from Australia, planted wholesale across Pakistan. In the 1990s Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB, Faisalabad) told us that each eucalyptus was a tube well drawing upward of 100 litres in every 24-hour cycle. We had millions upon millions of tube wells sucking away our precious water.

But no one was listening. Punjab had to thrice – yes THRICE – ban eucalyptus. Even today, thirteen years after the third banning, I see nurseries across this sorry province and the rest of this sorrier country with billions of eucalyptus saplings.

But soon an idiot called Mustafa Kamal (ex mayor Karachi) saw conocarpus in Dubai and imported it wholesale to blight this entire country with this ultra-thirsty bane. Imported from Central South America and Oceania, this tree is a very, very, very thirsty species. In Makran – a water scarce part – where it grows in the tens of thousands, this accursed tree is called Mustafa Kamal! Folks plant it because ‘it grows fast’. I have never figured out why we are in such a hurry to get to a green desert hell.

Incidentally, retired foresters who were at the forefront of the eucalyptus invasion back in the 1960s also said that tree grew fast. This is patent rubbish. Our collective inferiority complex forces us to choose imported trees.

Dubai has learned its lesson: they have eradicated the curse of the conocarpus. But they learned their lesson only when its roots burrowed into and damaged water mains and sewers. We, sadly, will not learn ours even then. Couple the tree’s thirst with the very high release of allergens. If paper mulberry (imported from China circa 1960s) was not enough to put sense into our puny heads, neither will conocarpus. God willing, we shall all die of asthma!

Last year, NHA removed thousands of eucalyptus; I was very happy and hoped the empty space will be taken up by indigenous species. Perish the thought, however. Hundreds of thousands of conocarpus have taken up that space! Not only that, those who cut the eucalyptus did not know that the stumps left behind coppice wildly. Like the Hydra, each stump erupts into a dozen new trees.

Now, we have millions of more eucalyptus along M-2 that will be sucking up hundreds of times more water from our dwindling aquifer. And in between these forests of eucalyptus are rows of conocarpus. I will needlessly reiterate: both trees draw heavily from the water table. They are in a great way guilty of depleting our sub-soil water.

My question is: why are we so stupid?

Will I be asking for too much if I request you and Shahid Tarar, under whose sway the Motorways fall, to order an immediate eradication of conocarpus and eucalyptus? The space must be given over to indigenous species. That way, you will also give respite to our birdlife which, with the wholesale destruction of habitat, has been pushed into small pockets.

There are other things we need to talk about. Mainly our infatuation with palm trees and dwarf species. I can only tell you that arresting climate change will forever remain elusive: all your initiatives are self-defeating if you at the same time blight this land with alien and thirsty species. To play a positive and telling part in arresting climate change, you need trees of large bio-mass. Trees like our pipal, banyan etc.

Yours sincerely,

PS: Email address given below is defunct. Current address:

Shahid Ashraf Tarar
Chairman National Highways Authority

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 20 February 2017 at 03:01, Anonymous Mutamin ul Mulk Hashmat Jung Fakhar ud Doula Nawab Bahdur Arastu Jah. said...

Salman appreciate your concern but the trees will not be eradicated by the Ummah as this is the prophecy that once the world’s turns into a desert will appear Anti-Christ who as they say will have water with him and then Christ will appear to fight him. Those who drink water from Dajjal will be forever damned. You roam around Pakistan , go to Akora Khattak ( you know where ) and it will be verified for you

This has been all pre-determined.

Otherwise why the heck would nature produce a tree that guzzles more water the all other species?

At 20 February 2017 at 23:09, Blogger Noreen Haider said...

I just want to know if this is your real name and you seriously use theses titles in 2017? Seriously? It was Quite amusing. I really don't want to offend but you do realise that British raj is over.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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