WITH the monsoon plantation drive in full swing in Islamabad and the adjoining areas, the government appears to be making good progress on its Ten Billion-Tree Tsunami Programme. Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated a nationwide monsoon plantation drive by planting a sapling in Islamabad’s Fatima Jinnah Park and also in Nathiagali. Over the course of the next few weeks, the Ministry of Climate Change and the Capital Development Authority will ensure the plantation of at least half a million saplings in and around the capital city. Pakistan has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates, between 0.2pc and 0.5pc — the worst in Asia after war-torn Afghanistan. Rapid and unregulated development, both industrial and urban, a high population growth rate and a powerful timber mafia have reduced the country’s forest cover to a mere 5.7pc, a far cry from the recommended 25pc. A continuation of the Billion-Tree Tsunami project in KP, the 10 Billion-Tree programme seems to have served as a model for international ventures such as the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees Initiative. Trees act as lungs for the earth and help in cooling down the atmosphere, while working as a barrier to mitigate the impact of natural disasters such as floods, heatwaves and heavy rains. Climate change is upon us and Pakistan is among the countries most vulnerable to its potentially devastating effects. The mass tree plantation drive, then, is to be welcomed. A similar spring plantation drive was held earlier in February as well involving 51 Miyawaki urban forests in Lahore.
However, for this effort to be effective, it needs to gel within an overarching afforestation framework that aims to conserve and protect the existing tree cover in the country. First, the government must restore the ban on forest cutting (ironically ended in 2014 by the PTI government in KP) and stop allowing private developers to build on forest land. Then drastic measures are needed to control the activities of the timber mafia, and ensure strict punishment for those violating government law and endangering the environment. Lastly, the climate change department should make sure that local communities in remote areas have access to alternative fuel so that they do not cut down trees for firewood; communities must also be educated on the importance of environmental conservation. Environmental ambitions must be reflected in the overall developmental and economic policy of the country if we want to conserve our natural surroundings.
Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2021