ISLAMABAD:Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul has said that promoting use of energy-saving cooking stoves among forest communities, which solely rely on fuelwood for cooking and heating needs, is vital to significantly reducing fuelwood and tackling deforestation in the country.
“Empowering forest communities with alternative and efficient energy sources and energy-saving cooking stoves for meeting daily cooking and heating needs can significantly help cut soaring pressure on the country’s forest resources,” the state minister told participants of a ceremony held for distribution of 500 energy-efficient cooking stoves in Chawan forest area of the Karore valley, some 40 kms from here.
Zartaj Gul distributed 100 energy-saving cooking stoves among poor and deserving households from Kalar Syedan and Kahuta forest areas of the Rawalpindi district under the UN Development Programme’s Sustainable Forest Management Project and Global Environmental Facility as a part of the government’s efforts to cut forest loss.
Zartaj Gul told participants that the energy-efficient stoves are provenly known for burning around 50 percent less fuelwood and help mitigate indoor air pollution and related health hazards that kill thousands annually in the country.
However, she hoped, “the distribution of the energy-saving and efficient cooking stoves among the forest communities would not only reduce fuelwood collection burden of households but also lead to improvement in their health and cut forest loss”.
With growing population and soaring demand for fuelwood, which steeply spike during the winter months (Nov-Feb), in most of the forest areas, the country’s forest areas are under mounting pressure and fast shrinking, she noted.
Referring to various international studies on state of forests in Pakistan, the state minister Zartaj Gul said that current estimates suggest that the country’s forests are being cleared at a rate of 40,000 hectares (ha) per annum, over 60 percent of which is used as fuelwood.
Besides, over 60 percent of the rural communities and significant number of households in urban and peri-urban areas lack access to natural gas, who depend on fuelwood mined from the forest areas for their day-to-day domestic needs including cooking, heating and bathing, she added referring to the study findings.
She pointed out that ruthless exploitation of forest resources and tree-cutting over last several years, most of it for meeting household energy needs, has badly degraded country’s overall environment, aggravating air pollution, vulnerability to the devastating impacts of climate change, particularly floods, heat waves, land erosion and landslides.
The state minister highlighted that low-quality and inefficient energy cooking stoves pose grave health risks due to indoor air pollution, particularly affecting women, because, such cooking stoves result in “black carbon” or soot, which cast extremely damaging health impacts, particles of which absorb sunlight and contribute to climate change.
The minister pointed out that when considering underlying drivers of deforestation in the country, there is an important – and gendered – factor described as ‘biomass collection by women’ that gets far less attention than it should.
Biomass plays an enormously important role in the lives of the rural poor in the country’s forest areas, serving as the primary source of energy for cooking and household heating. The collection of fuelwood is done primarily by women and children, with men’s involvement growing only when these activities are commercialized for meeting livelihood needs, Zartaj Gul explained.
However, as forests reduce or get degraded, women and children need to spend increasing amounts of time collecting firewood, leaving little time for other activities such as study for girls, she added.
The Secretary Climate Change Ministry, Naheed Shah Durrani said during her address that the new energy-efficient stoves would also help transform both environment and lives of the forest communities.
“The energy-saving stoves will transform the way women cook in rural communities. It will also help cut forest loss, save lives, improve livelihoods and protect the environment at the same time,” the secretary said.