Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

A poor country’s commitment to preserve the environment

Aug 25, 2021, 6:06 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Columnist

POOR as it is, Pakistan is showing the rich nations in this planet how to take care of the environment and to reverse the inevitable global warming from overexploitation of natural resources, wasteful human activities and mankind’s utter disregard for nature.

It first set a goal of planting 1 billion trees in 2015, which was so successful that it is currently undertaking its new goal of “Ten Billion Tree Tsunami” to fight climate change.

This story in Washington Post caught my attention and deep appreciation for the efforts that a poor country like Pakistan had been doing to stave off the frequent and fiery wrath of nature—in more massive and frequent wildfires, flooding, earthquakes, Arctic ice melting, loss of wildlife and coral reefs—which affect the poorer nations more than the rich ones (with massive resources for relief, rescue and recovery).

Last August 20 I could not help but read and re-read the story that talked about the billion tree tsunami project in Khyber Pahtunkhwa province.

August, the start of monsoon season in Pakistan, and with the rain comes another busy stretch for the country’s ambitious tree-planting program.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, residents of all stripes, from government officials to Boy Scouts, fan out along the hills. They bring with them chinar tree saplings — which can grow to nearly 100 feet tall — along with other varieties, and they begin digging.

Province wide

It’s all part of an effort that started in 2015, when Imran Khan — then a provincial politician and now Pakistan’s prime minister — backed a program dubbed a “Billion Tree Tsunami.”

The initiative reached its provincewide target in 2018 and was so successful that federal officials expanded the drive nationally in 2019 with a new goal of 10 billion trees — or, the “Ten Billion Tree Tsunami.”

“Everyone is waking up and starting to plant,” lawyer and environmentalist Hazrat Maaz told The Washington Post at the time.

History of deforestation

The program addresses Pakistan’s history of deforestation as the country confronts the realities of climate change in the form of hotter temperatures, melting Himalayan glaciers and intensifying monsoon rains, wrote Sarah Caron, the author.

“It makes us very vulnerable,” Malik Amin Aslam, Pakistan’s federal minister for climate change, said in a recent phone call. He has overseen both the provincial and national planting campaigns. “The cheapest, most effective and quickest way to fight climate change is to plant trees,” he said.

Direct planting, Aslam explained, accounts for about 40 percent of the program’s new trees. Hundreds of thousands of people across Pakistan are working to nurture and plant 21 species, from the chir pine to the deodar — the national tree.

The other 60 percent come from assisted regeneration, in which community members are paid to protect existing forests so that trees can propagate and thrive. Protectors are known as “nighabaan,” and 11 individuals lost their lives fighting the “timber mafia” between 2016 and 2018, according to Aslam.

A plantanus orientalis, or "chinar" in Urdu, is planted by Mohamed Mughees Sana, deputy commissioner of Haripur, Pakistan.

Whether planted or protected, trees capture and hold carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change — and combat erosion on steep landscapes in Pakistan that Aslam says are “almost like living on a slide.”

Tenfold increase

The latest tree “tsunami” appears to be on pace. The rate of new trees has gone up tenfold since the initiative began, Aslam said.

He expects another 500 million trees by the end of this year, with a goal of around 3.2 billion by 2023. If the current ruling party — Movement for Justice — is reelected, the aim is to hit 10 billion trees by 2028.

Aslam says the initiative is engaging the next generation in the country’s battle against climate change.

“Young people get very excited when they hear about this,” he said. “It’s their future that we’re investing in.”

Photos showed scouts planting dalbergia sissoo trees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The variety was specifically chosen to fight erosion and create shade near the Khanpur lake, which officials hope to convert into a recreational area.

Reforesting is also entertaining

Sarah writes that the scouts are accustomed to planting trees after being part of the program for three years. Not only do they see the endeavor as necessary to fight deforestation but they say it's entertaining, too.

The saplings used for the project are not treated with insecticides in the nursery, and the forestry department will go on to monitor the young trees for three years after planting.

Nurseries are developed with the help of local communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in April 2019. Students and volunteers planted saplings in August 2019 at Fatima Jinnah Park in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital.

City workers water the saplings planted by students and volunteers at Fatima Jinnah Park.

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If I am not mistaken we have had so many grandiose reforestation programs since the time of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, until the Duterte administration but I do not hear or see much of the impact of such programs—decades after they have been undertaken.

I have written so many stories about forest ranger teams formed to protect the reforestation sites and old growth forests and the involvement of communities in the care of the newly- planted trees, most of which are fruit-bearing and hardwood.

In my frequent travels around the country, I do not see much improvement on the slopes and flatlands where they were supposed to have been planted. If at all, I could not feel the refreshing breeze that should have come from the new and old growth forests.

It makes me wonder—where did those billions (and by now it could have reached trillions of pesos) invested in such reforestation programs go? Were they lost from corruption again? I only shudder at the bleak future that generations from now will live through.

When will we ever learn to do our share in caring for the environment and being good stewards of nature that God has bestowed on us?


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