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In Pakistan, an ambitious effort to plant 10 billion trees takes root

Dubious

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Young trees planted as part of a Pakistani government reforestation campaign stand among older ones along the hilly road between Islamabad and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. (Pamela Constable/The Washington Post)

By Pamela Constable
October 14 at 6:00 AM
HARIPUR, Pakistan — When Mohammed Riasat, a government forest service officer, peers up at the majestic ridges around him, he sees small miracles others might miss: a few dozen pine seedlings that have sprouted in rocky, near-vertical cliffs or a grove of healthy young eucalyptus trees, planted on a patch of terrain that had been eroding after years of illegal use.

“When I see a grown tree cut down, I feel like a close relative has died,” said Riasat, who has spent three decades working with limited funds and staff to protect Pakistan’s beleaguered forests here in the verdant hills of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. “When I see a new one appear, I feel attached to it.”

Two years ago, that struggling effort got a huge boost. Imran Khan, then a politician whose party governed the province, launched a program dubbed the “Billion Tree Tsunami.” Eventually, hundreds of thousands of trees were planted across the region, timber smuggling was virtually wiped out, and a cottage industry of backyard nurseries flourished.

Today, Khan is Pakistan’s prime minister, and his new government is aiming to replicate that success nationwide, this time with a “10 Billion Tree Tsunami.” Officials said they hope the initiative, launched last month, will foster environmental awareness in their impoverished, drought-plagued country, where both greed and necessity have left forests stripped; they now cover only 2 percent of all land, according to the World Bank.

The plan is one of dozens that Khan has proposed in his wide-ranging agenda to fashion a “new” Pakistan. Some have met with skepticism, such as persuading wealthy overseas Pakistanis to finance the construction of dams and vowing to end entrenched official corruption.

But the idea of a green awakening seems to be taking root. The new program is expected to make enemies, especially powerful individuals and groups that have appropriated large tracts of government land for years. But the concept appeals to a new generation of better-educated Pakistanis, and it has sparked excitement on social media.


Pakistan’s new government has launched a “10 Billion Tree Tsunami” in hopes of reversing decades of deforestation. (Pamela Constable/The Washington Post)

“This is one of the rare things in our society that is not divisive,” said Malik Alim Aslam, the new federal minister for climate change, who headed the original campaign in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. On Sept. 2, when the government held 200 launch ceremonies across the country, enthusiastic citizens helped plant 2.5 million saplings in one day.

But experts said Pakistan will need more than a trillion new pines, cedars and eucalyptus trees to reverse decades of deforestation. It is even harder, they noted, to protect public forests from human predation, which is often hidden from view and hazardous to combat. Culprits include timber rustlers, villagers who let cattle forage freely and developers who raze acres of forested land.

During the pilot project in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, officials hired local residents as forest guards, but 10 of them were killed trying to stop encroachers. And when an observant citizen repeatedly reported illegal logging in an obscure area of the province, local officials did nothing. Finally, provincial leaders fired every employee of the forest service administration.

It was a signal of zero tolerance, and it sent shock waves across the government,” Aslam said.

The bold move also encouraged a budding environmental movement. One small victory occurred recently in Swat, a once-bucolic region in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that has suffered from years of deforestation and a takeover by Taliban militants. When local officials began cutting down trees to widen a road, protesters blocked it. Then Khan’s new government stepped in, and half of the trees were spared.

Several activists said the message was also beginning to change traditional habits that damage the environment. In one mountainous area, they said, some residents are planning to relocate to towns in the winter rather than chop down trees to heat their hillside homes.

“Everyone is waking up and starting to plant,” said Hazrat Maaz, a lawyer and environmentalist in Swat. He said he was “especially happy” to see one elderly man preventing sheep from grazing in an area of newly planted trees.

During a drive last month along steep, winding roads linking the capital, Islamabad, with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Riasat pointed out acres of two-year-old pines and eucalyptus trees, as well as newly protected forest areas where dozens of tiny pine saplings had taken root spontaneously.

Every few miles, large green signs promoting the Billion Tree Tsunami had been erected, listing how many acres had been planted. One, however, stood next to a freshly bulldozed road and chopped-off cliff where pines clung by their exposed roots. A site supervisor said the land had been purchased to build a restaurant for tourists.


Trees have been bulldozed along the road from the capital to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to make room for a restaurant. Commercial development is permitted at that site. (Pamela Constable/The Washington Post)

Riasat said such commercial arrangements are permitted in that area. But on protected land, he said, the community caretaker program has improved security by educating transgressors and imposing penalties if they persist.

Before this campaign, people who wanted to build a house or graze their cattle just went into the woods. Now that has been stopped,” Riasat said. Even some former timber rustlers, he said, have started growing and selling trees. “We used to go after them, but now they come to us for advice,” he said.

Aslam said he has no illusions that planting and protecting billions of trees across Pakistan will happen cheaply or quickly. One obstacle will be forcing powerful people off public land they have long occupied; another is that two of Pakistan’s four provinces are dominated by political parties that are rivals of Khan’s Movement for Justice and are less likely to cooperate.

“The challenge is going to be much bigger this time,” Aslam said. “About 40 percent of fertile public land has been encroached by land-grabbers, including some lawmakers. There will be a lot of blowback, but we have strong political commitment. We will enforce the law.”

In communities along the road to Haripur, residents seemed supportive of the campaign. Some noted the economic link between environmental preservation and tourism. Others said Khan’s provincial program had spurred them to support his party in the recent national elections.

“All the beauty of the environment here is due to forests, and no one should be allowed to touch them,” said Mohammed Qayoum, 50, a retired schoolteacher in the town of Pir Sohawa. “For years, the officials never came to check on them, or they made deals to cut down trees. But in these past five years, that has all changed.


Goats and a cow graze at a farm in the village of Boddla located near acres of eucalyptus trees planted in 2016. (Pamela Constable/The Washington Post)

Twenty miles farther on, several residents of Boddla village said they had benefited when the government planted acres of eucalyptus trees there in 2016. Some earned cash as laborers; others raised saplings for a small profit. They are forbidden to let their livestock roam among the new trees, so they now tie the animals in their yards.

“When things are green, it is a benefit for everyone,” said Khanan, a villager in his late 50s. Outside his mud-walled farmhouse, a cow and two goats were tethered under a thatch. “God will have mercy on this work,” he said.

Haq Nawaz Khan contributed to this report.

Pamela ConstablePamela Constable is The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She previously served as a South Asia bureau chief and most recently covered immigration in the Washington area for several years

https://www.washingtonpost.com/worl...ory.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.cec461e51922
 

Imran Khan

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this must be not stopped . no matter whom gov no matter which province or area . we Pakistanis need coverage of trees all over Pakistan . and also big punishment for tree cutters
 

Bilal.

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But experts said Pakistan will need more than a trillion new pines, cedars and eucalyptus trees to reverse decades of deforestation.
There are a total of 3 trillion trees in the entire planet... what are they talking about?
 

CHACHA"G"

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Great work , this must go on ……… One more thing we need to do is introduce green area per each house policy ….
If some one building new house and land area is 1 to 5 merla then 1 tree(in side of the building) is must otherwise Govt will destroy the building ,
If area is 5 to 10 merla then 2 trees .,.....
10 to 20 merla 3 to 4 trees
20+ merla 10+ tree
This is the only way to have clean air in cities and towns ………. Planting trees on mountains are good but don't forget cities ………… Time to bring in new Law ……….. Tree per house (building) according to seize in cities
 

Dubious

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It says there are now, taking into account countries that are chopping their tree = deforestation
trees dying due to climate change = desertification

And many other phenomena...Doesnt mean forest can only hold that many...But yea it is unrealistic to ask Pakistan to produce a trillion but based on this:
Pakistan will need more than a trillion new pines, cedars and eucalyptus trees to reverse decades of deforestation.
I am not sure they meant that all trillion will survive or all need to be growing at once within next few mths...Over years prob! I guess it is an overestimate coz there is a 2% forest figure going around so based on numbers/ prediction is trillion!

But yea, baby steps...Billion is good enough!
 

Dubious

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Great work , this must go on ……… One more thing we need to do is introduce green area per each house policy ….
If some one building new house and land area is 1 to 5 merla then 1 tree(in side of the building) is must otherwise Govt will destroy the building ,
If area is 5 to 10 merla then 2 trees .,.....
10 to 20 merla 3 to 4 trees
20+ merla 10+ tree
This is the only way to have clean air in cities and towns ………. Planting trees on mountains are good but don't forget cities ………… Time to bring in new Law ……….. Tree per house (building) according to seize in cities
Also plants / apartment area or small parks / housing scheme that actually has plantation! The parks in our society only has grass! LITERALLY!....there are examples and models of green cities that govt can just purchase and build!
 

Bilal.

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Imran Khan

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Bilal.

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It says there are now, taking into account countries that are chopping their tree = deforestation
trees dying due to climate change = desertification
Even than considering many dense rain forests some bigger in size than entire Pakistan hold only a fractions of a trillion trees... this is simply a ridiculous statement. You cant have that many trees in the area the size of Pakistan.

bhai billion bol ker 500 million to lagaty hoon gay na ye pakistan hai
han phir sahi hai... Pakistani ginti ka trillion chalay ga ;)
 

FalconStar

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This is the soft image of Pakistan that needs to be projected, by just saying we are a peace loving nation wont make much difference, no one wants to listen to that. Now Washington Post is covering this news without anybody asking them to. So if we keep doing good things the world will finally realise we are a peace loving nation.


And we should plant as many trees as possible.
We went from planting 1 Billion to now trying to plant 10 Billion.
InshaAllah when we achieve this then we can go for 50 Billion and so on.
 

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