PRESS FOR PEACE(PFP) INITIAL ASSESSMENT REPORT
This Report Prepared by Jalal Uddin Mughal PFP Field Director District Neelum Azad Kashmir and Ejaz Ur-Rehman Director PFP UK.
Location: Neelum Valley, District Neelum Azad Kashmir
1. Objectives of the Project
2. Introduction of the Musk Deer National Park (MDGNP)
3. Map of the District Neelum Azad Kashmir
4. Socio Economic conditions of the area
5. Implementation Challenges
6. Community Concerns and Versions
7. View point of Local politicians ,Bureaucrats and Environmental Professionals
8. Demands of the community
9. Role of Government (MDGNP)
10. Concerns and the role of Press For Peace(PFP)
11. Proposed interventions
OBJSCTIVES OF THE REPORT
• To facilitate stakeholders in the protection of biodiversity and the environment of the Neelum Valley though conflict resolution in project implementation.
• To highlight the challenges and issues in the project implementation
• To highlight the community s` point of view point and their concerns about the project
• To priorities the demands of the indigenous community
• To identify the Press For Peace s` role in project implementation and management.
INTRODUCTION OF THE MUSK DEER GURASE NATIONAL PARK (MDGNP)
One of the core strategies for protecting biodiversity is the establishment of national parks and other protected areas.Management Planning is an essential step towards ensuring the proper management of protected areas. This is particularly so as we move forward to the 21st century and face increasing complexities in the management of our parks and reserves.
Gurase Valley in District Neelum Azad Kashmir is the most captivating but remote and backward area of the Neelum valley situated in the north-east of the Muzaffarbad, the capital city of Azad Kashmir. It is stippled in many sub-valleys from the Kail to Taubutt. The area is situated at line of control(LOC) between India and Pakistan. The area is full of marvelous flora and fauna and enriched with natural resources like rivers, natural springs, forest and minerals. A local biologist Baseer ud din Quershi is of opinion that tremendously there is a number of rare species in Gurase Valley which are now at the last breath due to illegal hunting, deforestation and habitat degradation. Govt. of Azad Kashmir has declared the valley as a national park through a government Notification No SJ-F-O-7(14)/47-4238/2007 dated September.24, 2007 to protect and wise use of Natural resources for the conservation and income generation of local community. The area harbor a number of endangered species like Himalayan Musk Deer ,Marmot , Brown Bear and black bear including a number of birds and plants species. Similarly the endangered plant Bermi (Taxus baccata) the source of cancer medicine, Taxol, and a number of medicinal plants like Kuth(Sassuria lappa) are found in the area.
Map of the District Neelum, “projected area circled in red” (Source Planning and Development Department Govt.AJK)
Neelum River divides the park into two parts while the human
population resides on both side of Neelum River in the park area. The
park is surrounded by Line of Control in the east , peaks of Qammary
heights in the north Astor, Northern areas in the (Map 1). The Park
is located in district Neelum, covering an area of 52,817 ha, lying
between 2,017m to 4,345m elevation. The park falls under the Sharda
division and Guraze Range of AJK Forest Department. Each of the Range
is further divided into Blocks. Entire Sonar Block from Compartment
No. 1 to Compartment No. 31 and Compartment No. 16 to Compartment No.42 of Janwai Block are included in the park via Notification No
SJ-F-O-7(14)/47-4238/2007 dated September.24, 2007.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONDTIONS OF THE AREA
The communities residing in the Park area are mostly depending upon agriculture for their livelihood. But due to heavy snow in winter they could grow the crops only in summer and often they have to found other source of income for them. They depend upon livestock to fulfill the requirement of meat and milk. After agriculture and livestock, timber logging is the Major industry for local people. Sometime they use to hunt different wild animals and birds to earn their livelihood.
Majority of the people above then 30% is uneducated as there not have been sufficient educational facilities in Gurase Valley in past whereas Government have provided primary, middle and high schools in the valley, while the students have to go outside the valley for college and university education.
Health and hygienic condition of the valley is even much worse the any part of life. There are just two BHUs (Basic Health Units) in the whole valley to provide medical aid to the population of the valley. In winter season when the whole valley is ice-covered and temperature falls down from the freezing point, people could not reach to these BHUs and they have to use local herbs for treatment. And many people especially women and children die during winter because of absence of medical facilities. Lady Doctor and gynecologist are still not appointed by the government even in the whole district so a number of the women have to die during pregnancy complications.
Cast and Creed System:
Population of the Gurase is Muslim and is cluster of different tribes and ethnic groups like Kashmiries, Parmas, Pashtoons and Dardies. Pashtu, Kashmiri, Dardi and Hindko are the major language spoken in the area. Living a simple life, people of Gurase Valley are still attached with their culture and history like nomads.
This area is the heart of sustainable tourism in Azad Kashmir because of its lush green natural beauty.
Though the Government of AJK has declared and notified the area as MDGNP in 2001 but its implementation is still a challenge for Wildlife Department and conservation organizations deputed to promote, implement and management of this declared Park Area. Indigenous people have some critical and basic objections on the implementation of the park and these have been amplified by the recent act of the wildlife department and police.
COMMUNITY CONCERNS AND VERSIONS:
Though the conflict among communities, authorities and conservations activists is a universal phenomenon and it is not something infrequent but the case of Musk Deer National Park Gurase is totally different from the other conflicts. From the day first the indigenous communities have some basic concerns upon position of park but they never have been against the park like the day. It was a failure of implementing organizations and negligence , mishandling and maltreatment of wildlife department of Azad Jammu and Kashmir to untimely involve the law enforcement agencies to deal with communities for killing of a tiger in park area. Reportedly a tiger was killed by local people in Hanthi village of the park area some month before and wildlife department filed a case to trial against 22 residents of Hanthi and most of them were finally arrested by the police which inflamed the communities against authorities.
This action of wildlife department of Azad Jammu and Kashmir police have given birth to a new thought among communities that they are being considered even a low creature then wild animals and could not kill the animals even to save their life. During this protest due to premature involvement of police, blushed people and they broken some government vehicles and later one deputy commissioner Neelum along with superintendent police and other officials called upon the demonstrators.
VIEW POINT OF LOCAL POLITICIANS, BUREAUCRATES and ENVIRONMENTAL PROFESSIONALS
Mian Abdula Waheed a local politician is of opinion to de-notify the park because it is against the will of indigenous people. During a protest against national park Mian Whaeed said that people of Neelum Valley have been directly target of Indian shelling for 14 years. Now the Government of AJK instead of rehabilitation of IDPs is going to displace them again.
Another political leader from Neelum Valley Sardar Gul e Khundan is also holding the same opinion. According to him people of the Gurase Valley are dependent upon forests and wild life and without providing them alternate source of income conservation of the area will create a huge conflict among communities and authorities which could be resulting even civil violence in the area.
Global Environment Facility GEF have deputed a contravention organization Hamlyn Wildlife Foundation (HWF) which have already created many controversies during implementation of Ghamote National Park which is located just a few kilometers before Gurase.
Mr. Shahid Ayoob Deputy Commissioner of District Neelum is personally interested to resolve the conflict as he has commitment with demonstrators while he was negotiating with them in Kail during a protest staged against MDGNP.
Mr. Khurram Shahid a locale environment activist said that HWF have wasted a huge amount of funds in Ghamote National Park Area and the never went to communities for interaction. The NGO have reported to donors the completion of hundreds of projects regarding livelihood development and sustainability of the communities casting millions of dollars in Gamhote National Park Area whereas there is no even single project on ground in conserved area of Ghamote. Khurram is afraid that HWF will repeat the same with Gurase National Park.
DEMANDS OF THE COMMUNITIES:
Communities residing in the Musk Deer National Park Gurase area have critical concerns and worries about the implementation on the government notification of the national park and they consider the notification as an obstruction on their movement even in their own fields. Surely it is only because of poor social mobilization policy of the Organizations deputed to implement different awareness and development projects in Gurase Valley.
Still communities consider the whole process a step to violate their basic rights. Still the communities are not aware about the benefits of the park and have to sense of ownership at the park which needs to be created through advocacy and awareness campaign. Indigenous people have made following basic concerns upon the implementation of this Project.
• Internally displaced people in 1992 flood which are residing in Gagai, should be provided with a suitable accommodation in any other part of Azad Kashmir or Pakistan and should be provided with agricultural land are any other permanent source of income better then they have.
• As local communities depend upon the forest for their basic needs like food, vegetables, fuel, construction and their cattle’s need. They should be allowed to continue their activities in forest or may be provided with some other source of livelihood, energy and construction. Without providing alternate construction martial and source of energy authorities have ordered the communities to keep away themselves from forest.
• Wild animals like Bears, tigers and wolves many time thrust villagers and their livestock which is a hazard not only for livestock but also for human beings. It have been reportedly happened that a numbers of livestock have been teared by them and many peoples has also been injured or even killed by the wild animals.
• During summer wild animals like bear, monkeys and jackals plunge into the fields and destroy the cereal crops badly and local people have no right even to keep a dog for the protection of their crops. So, the government should provide the protection from such game animals.
• As the majority of the indigenous people depends upon logging and mining to earn money and they could not do anything rather then it. So, they should be equipped with skills to eliminate the issue after the ban on logging and mining in park areas.
• To retrieve the people of Hanthi village from the case trailed in local court for the killing of a tiger and resolve the issue need to be resolve through bilateral negotiation.
ROLE OF THE GOVERNMENT IN MDGNP:
Corruption becomes the base for development programs, especially in developing countries. Development funds allocated does not reach or reaches only part. Corruption poses a serious development challenge. In the political realm it undermines democracy and good governance by flouting or even subverting formal processes. Corruption facilitates environmental destruction. Corrupt countries may formally have legislation to protect the environment, it cannot be enforced if officials can easily be bribed.
Universally, the government of the state posses the most effective role in implementation process of national parks through awareness about importance of conservation by defining species and minerals of the conserved areas. But in Azad Jammu and Kashmir the case is different. Shortage of funds, Untrained an irrelevant staff and indolent behavior of the officials of AJK Wildlife and Forest Departments is the major obstacle in conservation process in Azad Kashmir.
Government has to collect information about species and minerals through research and studies in conserved areas to identify and declare the status of Species in classification i.e. common, endangered and rear after every four years. But in Azad Kashmir since the wildlife department works, never even a single research has been conducted to identify or classify the species of Azad Kashmir.
Wildlife Department of AJK has appointed irrelevant and unqualified staff in offices and field without any particular training of research and to handle with community related sensitive issues. So, currently the department has no basic information about wildlife species to the environmental activists’ even basic figures and maps about conserved areas of AJK.
Governments have frequently to deal with conflicts among indigenous people and conservation activists. It is internationally recommended through International Convention on Biodiversity (ICB) to resolve the issues through dialogues and no actions should be taken in conserved areas against the will of communities and involvement of law enforcement should be the last tool to deal with communities while in Guraiz, game guards of wildlife department tortured the people of Hanthi village and secondly the involved the police to arrest the 22 villagers at initial phase conflict. This action of the government has created an environment of revelation among people.
ICB have accepted the local traditions of conserved area as right of the indigenous people and internationally, violation of traditions is being considered as a violation of rights. But in Guraiz the NGOs and Government departments many times violate the traditions of communities badly.
Government is responsible to control illegal hunting and killing of wild animals and arrange trophy hunting in conserved areas. AJK Government is internationally allowed to arrange annual trophy hunting of Himalayan ibex in Shounther Game Reserve near MDGNP which could give 160 million dollars to AJK Government annually according to international rates. But the bidding for trophy hunting has never been arranged in AJK according to official record.
VIPs from Pakistan and Azad Kashmir reportedly have been frequently involved in illegal hunting and killing of wild animals like ibex, musk dear and tiger in Game Reserves, Game Sanctuaries and National Parks of Azad Kashmir. Last year Mr Bilal Mustfa Kharr, the son of Mustafa Kharr (former chief minister Punjab and the son-in-law of Raja Farooq Haider (AJK Prime Minister) was found involved in killing of a tiger in Machiara National Park in Neelum Valley in Azad Kashmir. No case was filed against him according to official record while it was internationally reported in media.
This double standard of the Government is also a reason of community hostility in MDGNP issue.
CONCERNS AND THE ROLE OF PRESS FOR PEACE (PFP) :
World Park Congress in Caracas 1993, described that the scientific community has known and has recognized that the mostly poor local populations bear major costs of conservation, while the main benefits occur globally.
In turn, the convention on biological diversity (CBD,2004) has called for the recognition of ‘‘the economic and socio-cultural costs and impacts arising from the establishment and maintenance of protected areas, particularly for indigenous and local communities, and (an adjustment of) policies to ensure that such costs and impacts—including the cost of livelihood opportunities forgone—are equitably compensated’’.
Problems encountered during the implementation of this plan may stem from weaknesses in the plan itself. How the plan was prepared (who was involved, at what stage etc.) will often have an impact on whether the plan is later successfully implemented.
Community involvement in protected area management has been recognised as a key component in management plans to achieve conservation goals. But in the situation of this project, there is still lack of effective participation and strong links between the communities and external conservation agencies.
Due to poor mobilization policy of concerned authorities deputed to mobilize and organize resources in Grace National Park areas have no basic concept of national park management.
However, protected areas are often created without any form of public involvement or agreement. There is often a situation where mistrust on the part of community members. Thus, in order to get the communities involvement, the first steps is establishing relationships and trust, as well as building capacity within the communities to be able to make informed decisions.
PFP has great concerns that unless protected area values are understood, there is a risk that management actions, either deliberately or inadvertently, will affect not only the natural resources but also the social and economic situation, especially that of local people. Park managers have to recognize that the traditional “fence and fines” management regime is not effective anymore and a new regime of protected area management must be upheld. The procedure must include cooperative, collaborative relationships with local stakeholders who share the responsibility of management.
PFP can provide a mechanism for communication and could play an evocative role to resolve the issue and to eliminate the hurdles in the implementation of the project (MDGNP) through consultation, linkages and coordination among concerned authorities and indigenous communities. To raise awareness among the communities about concept and benefits of the national park .PFP could arrange different workshops, meetings and group discussions among environmental communities, concerned authorities, activists, community organizations, and youth. It is also a need of time to buildup the capacity of the field staff appointed in protected area to liaison with communities. Majority of the staff is untrained and don’t know to handle the sensitive issues.
PFP will get greater support for the protection of the area. The success of a plan will depend on public and political support. It is essential to maintain regular communication with the public on decisions that affect them, and on the protection and use of the protected area.
PFP has strong linkages with folk communities and implementation authorities .PFP can play an important role to bring the different schools of thought closer to resolve the issue. The proposed projected area is still unexplored and still hidden from the human eyes. Through media campaign issues could be highlighted across the country and world to divert the attention of the international conservation organizations toward this area about the misery of local communities, the plight of the endangered flora and fauna and the lack of sufficient knowledge about the management of the protected areas like Gurase national park.
Intervention should be considered prioritized in ascending order)
S.no Intervention Stake Holder
1 Field visit, coordination and linkages development meetings
Wildlife Department, Himalayan Wildlife Foundation (HWF) Program for Mountain Areas Conservation (PMAC), indigenous communities and Local CO’s
2 Networking Communities, Co’s working in park area
3 Preparation and publication of stickers, posters and reports containing information about the park, endangered wildlife and minerals Communities, environmental activists, local nature clubs, CO,s Wildlife Department
4 Awareness and capacity building events (about importance of the park and role of the communities) Communities, students of high school and colleges, implementing staff of Gurase National Park, and political leaders.
5 Focus Group Discussions (FDGs) Communities, environmental activists, local nature clubs, CO,s Wildlife Department
6 Seminars Communities, environmental activists, NGO’s Political Leader and Law enforcement agencies.
7 Preparation of comprehensive research report of issue and compile recommendation for the resolution of the conflict through community participation Communities, NGO, s Wildlife Department and environmental activists.