Pakistan is slowly moving towards a unique achievement that may be ‘invisible’ to the global media. They are trying to own 10 billion trees. As a goal, it is mountainous. However, in the face of global concerns about climate change, the country’s efforts are worthy of everyone’s attention. In this work, they are becoming pioneers in the world. The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is calling their initiative a ‘tsunami of 10 billion trees.’ In 2015, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province started this initiative when the political party of Imran Khan came to power in the province and completed the tree plantation in three years.
Throughout South Asia, the image of Pakhtunkhwa has always been conservative. In contrast, the success of this project creates a different image. PTI is not late to capitalize on it. After coming to power at the centre, keeping in mind the experience of the province, they have come down with a target 10 times bigger than 2019. It has been planned that out of the proposed 10 billion trees, four billion will be new trees which will be planted. For this, about 20 species of trees have been selected. The remaining six billion trees will be created by protecting the already grown plants. Local people will be encouraged to take care of those last six billion trees. This man is called the guardian of the tree. Thus, by 2026, Pakistan wants to get 10 billion new trees. The survival rate of newly-planted trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is about 90 percent.
Besides growing trees, Pakistan also wants to increase protected forests and wetlands. At least 15 percent of the territory they are willing to make safe nature. Recently, Imran Khan announced creation of 15 national parks. It will have an area of seven thousand kilometers. The country already has 31 national parks. A National Park Academy is also being set up to build skilled manpower to run the national parks. When planting saplings in the tree tsunami, the trees that are tall, provide shade and pull the soil, are being picked. Such trees are being selected to prevent soil erosion. In addition, all trees will absorb carbon dioxide. The quality of the wind will change.
The Pakistani government estimates that afforestation will create thousands of new jobs. Some jobs will be temporary, while some will be long lasting. Many new nurseries are being set up there to supply trees. The whole initiative will cost a lot of money. The National Economic Council (ECNEC) estimates that the entire initiative will cost billions of dollars. So far, 800 million has been allocated for this work. Apart from school-college-mosque-madrasa volunteers, one lakh people are regularly involved in this work. The government says it knows the investment will not increase votes, but it is doing so for future generations. Forests cover five percent of the area in Pakistan. Pakistan is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population. Pakistan was in danger of climate change. The weather was getting warmer due to deforestation. In the north, ice water is rising in the cold zone. Elsewhere drought, rain, floods have increased.
At the same time, there was drought in some areas and floods in others. Thus, in the last 20 years, Pakistan has moved to the top 10 of the lists of countries that have been affected by climate change. Pakistan has to face the present with its misery. But mega projects of planting trees and protecting trees need a lot of money. Of Pakistan’s debt to China and the IMF, 10 percent of its revenue (about 2.5 billion) goes to interest on loans. In such an economy, it is difficult to invest behind the tree without people. But the country has come up with some new ideas for the required currency. The initiatives like loan waiver in exchange for plant protection and afforestation are being considered. They want to drag international economic organizations into programmes such as debt relief through environmental development. In this way, Pakistan is asking the rich countries to forgive the debt of the third world. They also have a bond issuance programme to finance forestry.
The idea that large-scale employment can be created by protecting the environment is widespread around the world. The United Nations has declared the next 10 years from 2021 as the ‘decade for ecosystem reconstruction.’ The United Nations is presenting Pakistan’s programme as a good model for this decade. Tree planting programmes are not new in South Asia. But whether that tree survives or not, it is rarely examined. The government of Pakistan has called on the World Food Programme, IUCN and other international organizations to monitor the forestry. Satellite imagery is the ‘audit’ of work in remote areas. There are several targets of such audits. Not only if there is a tree, but also whether the tree is being planted in the right place according to the local needs, it will also be seen on the satellite. In the name of success in afforestation, satellite technology is a good bulwark against lies and corruption in the Forest Department. The government has audited a programme to plant one billion trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with the help of the World-Wide Fund.
An advantage for Imran Khan in this initiative is that his close friend Jack Smith in the UK is now Minister for Environment. Jack is well versed internationally in raising funds for the environment. Imran wants to take his help. Planting trees is not the only way to tackle climate change. This is part of the solution, which costs less. Just as planting trees provides employment for many, so too do trees and forests create new jobs. The idea that large-scale employment can be created by protecting the environment is widespread around the world. The United Nations has declared the next 10 years from 2021 as the ‘decade for ecosystem reconstruction.’ The UN is presenting Pakistan’s programme as a good model for this decade. The United Nations is now showing in different parts of the world that there can be such a big initiative on the environment and the commitment of the highest administration of the country behind it. They say it is possible to bring people from the place of villain to the role of hero again on environment.
At least 50 more such initiatives are needed like in Pakistan. The tree drive has already received a positive response. Earlier this year, the Saudi government launched a project to plant 1,000 billion trees in their country. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the groundwater is rapidly depleting. Such dangers are not limited to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. Many people have died in recent forest fires in Turkey. The number of such fires has increased by 50 percent since 2020. Similar fires have occurred in at least 500 places this year in Greece. The highest temperature ever recorded in Italy was 48.8 degrees Celsius. A similar fire in Algeria killed at least 100 people, including 33 soldiers. On the one hand, the forest is burning in the heat, on the other hand, many cities and ports of the world are drowning in the flood of unimaginable speed.
Last July alone, 365 places in the world were flooded. In the meantime, about 100 people have died in the floods in China, which is very advanced in infrastructure. None of this is normal floods, rains and fires and everything will increase in the future. Scientists have been saying the words for a long time. But the interest and attention of politicians and administrators is not increasing. Imran Khan is an exception. Such pledges by politicians to tackle climate change in the third world are rare. Everyone in South Asia can celebrate this moment. The SAARC region is leading the world in tackling the world’s most pressing problems at a low cost.