top of page
  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Burning Margalla

                The Margalla Hills are a hill range within the Margalla Hills National Park on the northern edge of Islamabad Capital Territory, Pakistan, just south of Haripur District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They are part of the Himalayan foothills. The Margalla range has an area of 12,605 hectares. It is a range with many valleys as well as high mountains. There are around 250 to 300 species of plants on the Margalla Hills. As many as two-thirds of them are used by the people for their medicinal effects to treat or cure various diseases. The Margalla Hills are home to various species of wildlife, including monkeys, exotic birds and carnivores such as the rare and presently endangered Margalla leopard. The most scenic and beautiful Capital of Pakistan Islamabad is situated in the valley formed by Margalla, which have been intermittently burning for the last almost one month mainly due to severe heatwave, worsened by deliberate or accidental human errors. It is so painful to see the burning hills from Murree to Taxila and Kahuta, causing thick smoke clouds further adding to the temperature.

However, the large wildfire phenomenon is not only restricted to Margalla hills; the same is happening all over the province of KPK and Azad Kashmir, way beyond human control. The annual burning of the remains of the crops all along the motorway from Peshawar to Lahore and Multan is yet another environmental challenge caused by human neglect causing severe health issues.

                Countries in South and Southeast Asia faced severe heat waves in 2024. In May and June, tens of millions of people faced dangerous heat. Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other South Asian and South Eastern countries experienced the longest heat wave ever, starting in mid-May. In parts of Pakistan and India, temperatures rose above 45 degrees Celsius, with some areas exceeding 50 degrees Celsius. Extreme heat is influenced by both local and global factors. Locally, reduced vegetation and low soil moisture contribute to higher temperatures. Urban areas, with their concrete and asphalt surfaces, retain heat, creating what is known as the urban heat island effect. Additionally, wind patterns and cloud cover play roles in local temperature variations. Globally, El Niño events and climate change amplify extreme heat occurrences. El Niño events have released additional heat into the atmosphere since May, exacerbating global warming. Consequently, regions like South and Southeast Asia experience more frequent, prolonged, and intense heat waves, and extended dry periods. During El Niño, increased ocean temperatures lead to changes in atmospheric circulation, which can cause heavy rainfall in some regions and droughts in others. These conditions pose severe challenges for agriculture, leading to reduced crop yields and increased wildfire risks. However, human-induced climate change is now affecting this cycle; studies indicate that factor is increasing the occurrence and intensity of severe El Niño events, multiplying their impacts such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and altered hurricane patterns. Climate models predict that extreme El Niño events could occur approximately every 10 years instead of every 20 due to global warming. Climate change presents a significant challenge for Global South countries due to their limited resources and capacity to respond effectively. These nations heavily rely on agriculture as a vital economic pillar, making them particularly vulnerable to the erratic weather patterns associated with climate change. Consequently, they often experience crop failures, food insecurity, and heightened poverty levels. Heat waves present significant risks to vulnerable populations in third-world countries, particularly women, the elderly, and children, exacerbating their health, education and socioeconomic challenges.

                Nevertheless, large scale wildfires and increasing temperatures are also a global phenomenon now. A new study by the University of California, Riverside shows that soot from large wildfires in California traps sunlight, making days warmer and drier than they ought to be. Many studies look at the effect of climate change on wildfires. However, this study sought to understand the reverse — whether large fires are also changing the climate. And it concluded, “It appears these fires are creating their own fire weather.” Therefore, facing a surge in wildfires, the US Government turned to native wisdom and advanced archaeology. After a sharp increase in uncontrollable wildfires across the northern U.S. and Canada in recent decades, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Forest Service have been open to new approaches and ways to address the inherent weaknesses of their bureaucracies. Due to their lack of historical understanding of past fire management methods, they turned to archaeologists, who have collected information on more than 10,000 years of human activity. For their approach, these government agencies studied the perspectives and wisdom of Indigenous peoples offered through shared oral histories.

                The arrival of European settlers to the North American continent brought about a turning point in the relationship between people and fire. While North American Indigenous groups viewed fire as a great assistance to landscape management, the Europeans only saw it as a destructive force that needed to be avoided at all costs, and this led them to implement policies that suppressed all fire. The shift in attitude within the continent and suppression of Indigenous culture caused a significant loss in traditional fire knowledge and practices, leading to ecological consequences and large wildfires. Red pine forests, like those found in the Border Lakes area, especially benefit from this use of fire as their seeds require exposed soil to grow. Moreover, a greater balance between woody and grassy/ herbaceous plants improves food availability for livestock, wildlife, and pollinators. Clearing dead or dry vegetation in this manner also allows for fire-dependent species and important food sources to grow, such as the blueberry in the Great Lakes region. Blueberries used to proliferate in the region due to fire-based interventions from the Ojibwe community, who cleared patches of the forest floor and made them conducive to berry bush growth. In addition, reducing the amount of dry vegetation on forest floors also limits the potential severity of future wildfires by minimizing the available fuels. The resurgence of cultural fire practices, stemming from the initiatives started by the People, Fire, and Pines project, underlines the value of combining Indigenous and archaeological knowledge. By reclaiming controlled burns and implementing centuries-old fire practices to support effective forest management today, the relationship between people and their surrounding environments can be reestablished. Analyzing prehistoric data to better understand the root causes of modern issues that originated in the greater global past, like human contributions to climate change, conflict, and disease, can be used to facilitate solutions to current issues and avoid greater ones in the future.

The Government of Pakistan and especially the Forest and ecology departments need to learn a lot from such advanced studies rather than just being onlookers. The focus has to be on ending the deforestation, significantly promoting the afforestation, making use of ancient practices, reviving the old culture of making planters or available small land based patches into kitchen gardens, turning all roof tops, balconies and all open areas green with free delivery of suitable plants and pots to the public by the government in every nook and corner of the country. Taking a start from educational institutions shall greatly help. The digging of water catchment holes, wells, expanding ancient Karez system, and building maximum small dams must be undertaken on priority as a survival obligation. The Burning Margalla Hills must be taken as a warning by the Almighty to the Government and the People to do everything possible in their collective and individual capacities to overcome the uncontrollable wildfires and heatwave scorching the earth.

33 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page