Environmentalists said on Saturday deforestation in Pakistan was occurring at a fast pace, which was not only impacting the environment adversely but also hitting the economy hard. They believed that tree plantation plays a critical role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as it has a direct link with the economic growth-engine of any country for development. Forests are safeguarding biodiversity and acting as a shield against disasters and climate change, they said and added that woodlands were equally important for economic safety of the country, asserting that wood production, processing and the pulp and paper industries accounted for over one per cent of the global gross domestic product. In a talk with APP, noted environmentalist and manager, Food and Markets Programme WWF-Pakistan, Muhammad Irfan, said deforestation was directly linked to eco-degradation, which was one of the largest threats facing the world today. He said deforestation was resulting in a number of negative impacts on environment and economy of the country, adding that trees play an important role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and their loss contributes to climate change. Moreover, forests help regulate water flow, and their loss could lead to water shortages, he warned. Conservation and plantation of trees is prime responsibility of every citizen, he said urging that the industrial sector should utilise the latest methods and technologies to reduce gas emissions; they must use proper techniques for waste management and disposal as well as water treatment. The expert also suggested separation of residential and industrial areas. The reason was that an improved level of afforestation could improve environmental conditions that have the potential to ensure food security, enhance employment generation and boost income generation, he said. The WWF-Pakistan official said that climate change was one of the major reasons of deforestation, and it had become a major global concern while Pakistan was among the most vulnerable countries to the phenomenon. To query, he said that change in climate was a major threat to food production and security in Pakistan, he said. “Green cover helps prevent soil erosion, and its loss can lead to increased landslides,” he warned. Forests are home to a wide variety of plants, food and animal species, and their degradation could lead to biodiversity loss, he added. Moreover, forests are a popular destination for tourists, and their loss could lead to a decline in tourism potential, he stressed. For agricultural benefits, forests help improve soil quality and water retention, and their loss could lead to a decline in crops productivity, Irfan added. Noted environmentalist, Dr Mahmood Khalid Qamar said that eco-degradation and its related issues were seriously affecting country’s agriculture, forests and fisheries sector. Due to deforestation, Pakistan’s sea level was rapidly increasing and that might submerge many parts of the coastal areas in Balochistan and Sindh, he asserted. Currently, climate change and eco-degradation are having a negative impact on overall crop productivity, Qamar said adding that it increased the temperatures by around one Fahrenheit by reducing cereal yield in all countries located in South Asia, Qamar added. “We all will have to recognise tree plantation as an integral feature of sustainable economic development. Agriculture and forest sectors should be the focus of policymakers for generating new economic opportunities,” he advised.