The urban jungle — taking it literally

Some scientists argue that trees have feelings and they can even feel pain. Imagine if they could scream: their cries would be heard echoing across much of Pakistan, where tens of thousands of trees are obliterated every year to pave way for concrete jungles. But trees do not scream; on the contrary, they absorb noise making them an invaluable source for neutralising urban pollution. But can rising metropolises coexist with jungles? The answer is a resounding yes.

Humans have lived in harmony with their photosynthetic companions for much of our 200,000 years of existence. It has only been 100 years since we have witnessed the rise of megacities and it is no wonder that we still find solace in nature. By and large, humans have refused to be domesticated by cities and to be tamed by skyscrapers. And yet poor urban planning means that most of us are forced to live in unnatural habitats, something that our dormant personalities still find other-worldly.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Pakistan is home to 4.2 million hectares of forests and planted trees which equates to only 4.8 percent of the total land area which is considerably less than other countries in the neighbouring region. Furthermore, Pakistan experiences the highest deforestation rate of any Asian country. The country needs a radical shift in how it respects and promotes nature. Urbanization is not the culprit, it is the unplanned urbanization that stifles the nature’s breathing apparatuses. Perhaps some degree of policing should be imposed to enforce a culture of preservation. Educating the masses on the numerous benefits of green spaces is equally important in conserving and promoting nature.
Aqrab Ali Rana, Chief Executive Officer of Pakistan Green Building Council (GBC), believes that there are three major factors which determine how our nation performs when it comes to nature preservation.

These include social, economic and environmental factors.“It all comes down to awareness”, said Aqrab. Currently, there is very little public awareness about the benefits that trees and plants bring to the urban environment. Schools and colleges can consider making subjects related to conservation mandatory. People also need to comprehend how nature can create an impact on an individual level and affect them economically. For example, homeowners can considerably reduce the cost of air-conditioning by creating rooftop gardens with lawn and vegetable plants. This will reduce the electricity costs, keep the house cool, provide a steady supply of eatables, and serve as a great relaxation spot. In a country where the majority of people live in small houses rooftop gardens provide immense opportunities.
Instilling a ‘green conscience’ in the public’s mind is a great step towards preserving the environment. People need to understand the social, economic, and environmental benefits of trees to enable them to talk green and act green. There is hope. Pakistan is witnessing a growing interest towards conservation. Everyone, from students to policy leaders, are helping plant more trees for the betterment of Pakistan.

However, Dr Muhammad Tahir Siddiqui who is the Chairman of the Department of Forestry and Range Management at the University of Agriculture Faisalabad, warned that planting trees alone is not enough. According to Dr Tahir, “If you plant a tree you need to do so with love and care. Many trees require close monitoring and you need to be prepared to offer guardianship to your young green friends for at least two years.” He further added that cutting down one tree should always be followed by planting two trees and industrial areas should always be enveloped by woodland.

Cities are full of spaces which can be utilised to plant trees. Highways can provide an expansive real estate for accommodating trees. One kilometer of track can provide permanent home to more than 400 trees. Tree avenues, like the one in Mall Road, can help reduce urban heat islands which are areas characterised by significantly warmer temperatures. Heat islands develop as a result of high concentration of roads, buildings and other urban structures which block wind and absorb ultraviolet light.
Heat emissions from cars, generators, air conditioners, and other machines also contribute towards overall high ambient temperatures. If plants are allowed to coexist with the urban jungles then we would also experience relief against other menaces like traffic noise, exhaust fumes, and industrial emissions. The trees also provide sanctuary to birds and other animals which supplement nature’s charm. Not all trees are equally valuable. Shady trees which bear fruits and provide other valuable by-products should be considered for plantation. Some possible examples include Alstonia, Neem tree (Azadirachta indica), Shahtoot (Mulberry), Sheesham (rosewood), and Sohanjna (Moringa).

There are 101 ways in which nature can coexist with the urban environment. Let us put a few to practice and start our quest to regain our natural habitats.

The article was originally published in The Daily Times, on September 23, 2018. For original content click here.

Humza Irfan

Humza Irfan (The Author) has more than 8 years of progressive experience as a professional writer. He has penned more than 200 articles on assorted subjects. His forte includes writing content for advocacy, persuasion, creating awareness and story-telling. He has done his masters from Lahore University of Management Sciences. He holds extensive experience of working with the nonprofit sector of Pakistan and has been associated with a number of diverse social causes in related to education, higher education, health, special-needs education, disability, human rights, gender parity, etc. His blogs can be accessed on www.brandsoncanvas.com. He tweets @humzod (twitter.com/humzod).

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