Harnessing natural resources in KP for socio-economic development

By: Asif Rafique

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In the contemporary global economic landscape, marked by market downturns, the spectre of inflation, rising unemployment, and persistent poverty has cast a shadow over developing nations, including Pakistan.
Compounding these economic challenges, the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has introduced another layer of complexity into this multifaceted quandary. It is essential to underscore that unemployment has long been a persistent concern in Pakistan, predating the current wave of global crises.
Context and Focus Area: Within the purview of this analysis, we direct our attention to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, located in the north-western expanse of Pakistan.
Unlike some other provinces, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa exhibits a relatively limited propensity for arable lands. This distinctive feature can be attributed to its predominantly rugged topography, characterized by rivers, forests, and mountainous terrain, which sets it apart in terms of agricultural employment opportunities.
Yet, it is precisely this unique topographical profile that harbors abundant natural assets, waiting to be strategically harnessed for the purpose of catalysing economic rejuvenation and illuminating a brighter socio-economic horizon.
Untapped Ecological Wealth: As we delve into the ecological wealth embedded in the forests and mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, empirical data unveil the extent of nature’s generosity.
Nearly 45% of Pakistan’s total forested land lies within the boundaries of this province. Nevertheless, the potential of these natural resources remains largely untapped, pushing a considerable segment of the population in regions such as Malakand, Hazara, newly merged districts & Chitral to seek employment opportunities overseas.
Economic Potential: Endowed with nature’s bounty, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa possesses the latent capacity to establish an industry of monumental worth, approximating a staggering 2,000 Billion Pkr. This goal can be achieved by judiciously exploiting the wealth enshrined within its forests and riverine resources.
At present, the province comprises approximately 2 million hectares of forested terrain. Expert insights suggest that an endeavor to double this expanse could potentially unlock an annual industry valued at 2 trillion rupees, facilitating gainful employment for up to 5 million individuals.
Comparative Analysis: Comparing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Forest coverage per capita with neighbouring countries yields striking insights.
China leads with 1499 square meters of forest coverage per capita , followed by Iran with 1265 square meters and India with 525 square meters. In stark contrast, Pakistan lags behind, with a mere 65 square meters per capita.
These statistics underscore the substantial disparity in the utilization of forested resources, evident in the instances of China, India, and Germany.
Transformational Potential: Expanding the forested land in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, coupled with the strategic introduction of agroforestry, holds the potential to usher in a paradigm shift.
The resultant benefits transcend economic prosperity, promising to alleviate the persistent scourge of unemployment. This approach charts a transformative trajectory, fostering employment opportunities within the province, and even accommodating those compelled to seek livelihoods beyond the national boundary.
Environmental Stewardship: Leveraging the abundant natural endowments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, encompassing forests and water resources, not only promises economic opportunities and financial dividends but also underscores a proactive approach to mitigating the pernicious effects of global environmental fluctuations.
This challenge carries profound implications, not only for Pakistan but also in the broader global context. In conclusion, the untapped ecological and economic potential of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa presents a compelling opportunity for strategic development and environmental stewardship, offering a beacon of hope in the face of economic adversity and environmental challenges.

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