As trees fall to development in Islamabad, protesters fight back
ISLAMABAD: A decade ago, artist Suleman Shams left Lahore and moved his family to Pakistan’s tree-lined capital, drawn by the city’s green and peaceful character.
Two years ago, however, the 41-year-old developed asthma and today can’t go outside his home without wearing a mask over his nose and mouth.
As the capital has expanded, with construction of ever more homes and businesses and with roads being widened to accommodate growing traffic, the city’s legions of trees are disappearing, Shams and other residents say, leading to worsening pollution and rarer rain.
“Since 2013, I have seen Islamabad losing its green grandeur as trees are fast vanishing from the city, making it only a dusty city,” Shams complained.
But residents are now pushing back.
After authorities in October cut down more than 200 mature trees in 24 hours to make way for the expansion of Attaturk Avenue, near the Prime Minister’s office, the National Commission for Human Rights, backed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, stepped in to halt plans to cut more than 400 additional trees on the project route, in response to public outrage.
The Supreme Court called for the commission to hold an inquiry into whether such tree cutting was legal, and ordered the suspension of Suleman Sheikh, the Islamabad Capital Development Authority’s director-general for environment.
The human rights commission, which sits under the Federal Law and Human Rights Ministry, directed the authority to look into purchasing machinery to transplant trees up to 14 inches in diameter rather than fell them.
In a telephone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Sheikh said he now believed such a purchase was a good idea.
“As construction, road expansion and other development activities will inevitably continue to happen in the future to accommodate rising number of vehicles and people coming from surrounding towns and villages, for the authority owning such a transplanting machine is now a must to protect the capital city’s green character,” he said.
Saving trees, he said, is “vital for keeping air quality from deteriorating further”.
Asad Kayani, a planning and design expert at the Capital Development Authority, said the body was planting more than 2,400 saplings across the city to compensate for the trees being cut.
But tree felling protestor Shumaila Nawaz said the new saplings – five to seven feet tall – could not make up for the loss of hundreds of 30- to 40-year-old trees, which are better at absorbing air pollution and regulating rainfall.