Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the country's largest tree plantation campaign on Sunday with the aim of planting 3.5 million saplings in the country in a single day.
Addressing a ceremony in Islamabad, the premier began his address by thanking all those who had participated in today's campaign.
He stated that Pakistan was among the top ten countries most affected by climate change. "Our wheat production has fallen over the past two years due to climate change and unprecedented rainfall."
"If we keep continuing on this path, then some of the areas will become deserts," he said, adding, "It is our responsibility to make the country green for future generations," he said.
"The 3.5 million saplings that we have planted today is just the start. This is a constant, ongoing battle, [but] we are not doing this for us. We are doing it for the coming generations," he said. "This is just the beginning. This is a long battle, but thankfully we have started the process," he said, vowing that trees would be planted in "empty spaces" in cities.
The premier also urged women to participate. "The women have to participate the most," he said.
He added that in addition to making the country green, the nation also had to focus on cleaning the country's rivers.
"So first we have to make the country green by planting trees, but simultaneously we also have to focus on cleanliness and make our rivers clean once again. Planting trees will also help in cleaning our climate and lessening pollution."
The prime minister concluded his speech by addressing the Tiger Force volunteers. "You are our future. The work you did today, you did it to improve your own and the country's future." He also lauded them for the role they played in supporting the government's coronavirus response.
"Today Pakistan is among those few countries that have successfully managed to control the pandemic," he said, adding that the world now recgonises Pakistan's successful strategy.
He also urged the nation to refrain from flouting standard operating procedures (SOPs) just because the number of cases was falling. "Wear a mask every time you leave the house," he said, adding that not wearing one would amount to being "ungrateful".
He also appealed to Shia Muslims to take precautionary measures during Muharram. "This is a time for precaution. If God has blessed us, then we need to be thankful and wear a mask."
In a tweet on Saturday, the premier had asked members of parliament, the chief ministers of all the provinces and volunteers from the Corona Relief Tiger Force to participate in the plantation drive, which is being carried out on Tiger Force Day.
"The target is 35 lakh trees in a day though we will try to exceed it," the premier had said.
Earlier today, Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing, Azerbaijan Ambassador Ali Alizada and Turkish Ambassador Ihsan Mustafa Yurdaku also participated in the drive by planting saplings at their respective embassies.
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam had said that one million Tiger Force volunteers will plant 3.5 million indigenous fruit and non-fruit tree saplings along with the climate change ministry and provincial forest departments.
He had added that two million saplings will be planted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1.2 million in Punjab, 303,646 in Azad Kashmir, 57,000 in Balochistan and 15,000 in Gilgit-Baltistan.
There have been 682 events organised across the country. NGOs and international NGOs, educational institutions and local communities will also participate.
Earlier today, Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar launched the plantation drive in the province by planting a sapling at an artificial forest at Shadman Market in Lahore.
According to Radio Pakistan, the chief minister said that the PTI government was committed to completing the target of planting ten billion trees in the country by 2023.
He said that Pakistan is facing the challenge of climate change as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, timely steps are needed to provide a healthy environment to the people, the report quoted him as saying.
He added that the provincial government had organised 520 ceremonies in different cities and towns to mark Tiger Force Day.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan also inaugurated the campaign in the province by planting a sapling in Peshawar.
Speaking on the occasion, he said that the target was to plant two million trees in the province. He added that participating in the campaign was not new for the people of the province. "In the past five years, we have planted 1.2 billion saplings," he said.
However, the plantation drive did not go quite as smoothly in Khyber district's Bara tehsil where citizens staged a protest.
After the district administration inaugurated the campaign, local elders gathered at the site and said that the drive had been launched on their land, claiming that the government wished to deprive them of their land.
They attacked district administration officials, Tiger Force volunteers and uprooted saplings. The KP chief minister also took notice of the incident.
Speaking to Dawn.com, a district administration official said that there was a dispute between two powerful tribes over the ownership of the land. "One of the parties was present when the campaign was inaugurated, while the other was unaware about the drive and uprooted the saplings," he said.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Youth Affairs Usman Dar had also urged opposition parties to express solidarity and plant trees with the Tiger Force.
Addressing a press conference in Lahore on Saturday, he had particularly invited opposition parties leaders Shehbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Murad Ali Shah, Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal to join hands with the government and plant saplings.
He had said the Tiger Force would create history by planting two million trees in a day and added that some 350,000 Tiger Force youth had performed duties during the coronavirus pandemic.
Additional input by Naveed Siddiqui