Fund freeze hampers conservation of Chitral Gol National Park – Journal

PESHAWAR: The freezing of funds for local communities by the federal climate change ministry is hampering conservation activities in Chitral Gol National Park, where a recent study found a significant decline in the markhor population, according to members of the community and curators.

The Markhor tally survey conducted by the provincial wildlife department early last year revealed shocking information about the number of national animals in Chitral Gol National Park. The official report says around 2,000 markhors were spotted in the park’s annual tally, up from 2,850 in 2019.

The report cited the closure of the Pakistan-Afghan border and the changing pattern of snowfall as the main factors in the decline of the population of markhors, the country’s national animal. “Increased human activities and construction works along the border have restricted the movement of markhors to the national park, which has also disrupted cross-border migration,” the report says.

Annual markhor count drops from 2,850 to 2,000, report says

Additionally, he added, December 2020 saw less snow and rain in Chitral, so the animals did not leave the habitats in the high altitude area. Authorities said whenever there was snowfall, the animal had to descend to a lower elevation to feed.

As there had been no snowfall in December of last year in Chitral, the animal did not bother to leave its habitat. In addition, December is also the mating time for the animal, so both factors led to the decrease in the number of animals, according to official accounts.

In-depth interviews with officials, environmentalists and representatives of the local community describe a worrying situation for the conservation program, which has been hailed as a success globally. They said the cut-off of funds for the local community had a debilitating impact on conservation activities, as this decision removed the element of financial benefit to the community.

Hussain Ahmed, secretary general of the Chitral Gol National Park Association, told Dawn that as long as communities receive benefits through the Protected Area Management Project (PAMP), they are interested in protecting the animal. However, the stoppage of cash flow also diminished community interest in conservation work, he said.

“Until 2018, the communities owned the animal and the park, but after the funds were stopped, it was just a formality,” he said, quoting a community observer.

The multi-million rupee PAMP was launched for better management and capacity building of three national parks in the country, including Chitral Gol, Hingol in Balochistan and Machiyara in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. After the completion of the ten-year project, the government established an endowment fund for sustainable development in three national park areas.

Officials said the fund was set up at the climate change ministry with seed money of $ 2 million.

They said the local communities identified in the management plan for Chitral Gol National Park, prepared during the PAMP, submitted their annual request to the ministry which in turn released funds. “This process continued for seven years; however, for unknown reasons, the endowment fund does not release funds for communities, ”a source said.

Mr. Ahmed said that initially communities were given Rs 8 million per year, which they used for the construction of water canals, check dams and other social protection programs. He said 22 community observers were also hired for the protection of the park and were paid from the same fund.

He said that later the amount was halved to Rs4 million per year. As a result, the number of community observers was also halved to 11. “Since 2016, the flow of money from the endowment fund has completely stopped,” he added.

Mr. Ahmed said the local community has sacrificed a lot for nature protection and conservation in their area. “People, who had a herd of goats of up to 1,000 animals, sold their animals to protect the park,” he said, adding that local people have stopped collecting firewood in the park. .

He said the community was not happy with the bank account transfer to Islamabad and expressed concerns. Some 2,500 families have been direct beneficiaries of PAMP, he said.

Stakeholders blamed MOCC co-secretary Mr. Suleyman Khan, who also holds the additional charge of the post of Pakistan Inspector General of Forests for the fiasco. However, Mr Khan was overseas and was not available for comment.

Dr Raja Mohammad Omer, Deputy Inspector General of Forests, told Dawn that since the matter was pending before the Mingora Section of the Peshawar High Court; therefore, he couldn’t talk much about it.

However, he said the main reason for freezing funds for communities was that it was not very productive. At the bedside, they also decided to transform three smaller funds, including an endowment fund, into a consolidated fund. “Now we are waiting for the court’s decision,” Dr Omer said.

Dr Mumtaz Malik, former KP chief wildlife curator and chairman of the endowment fund board, said political factors and vested interests were responsible for the funds being frozen.

He said the issue had been raised with Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for the Environment, Malik Amin Aslam, and other relevant officials in Islamabad to release funds to continue conservation activities in the park.

“If the number of animals has decreased, then I would definitely think that community support for the project is wiped out,” Dr Malik insisted.

“The fund has been frozen for unknown reasons, leaving up to 200 people unemployed,” he said, adding that someone could not even have thought of poaching Markhor in the park due to the community involvement and support.

Dr Malik said the number of animals counted also depended on the professional expertise of investigators. He said the animal moved in a herd; therefore, he could have stayed high in the mountains due to less snowfall.

Posted in Dawn, le 8 November 2021

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