Despite the COVID-19 lockdown in Pakistan, the government is creating over 60,000 jobs to help those who have found themselves unemployed during the pandemic to combat the threat of climate change.
Construction worker Abdul Rahman is one of the many citizens that lost his job, leaving him little choice but to beg on the streets or let his family go hungry. The new job incentive, where out-of-work labourers are offered jobs planting billions of trees, has given Rahman a better option.
Pakistan’s lockdown started on March 23. Day labourers who became unemployed were given the option to become “jungle workers” in the country’s 10 Billion Tree programme. The green stimulus initiative will help keep the economy running while tackling the next biggest threat, climate change.
“Due to coronavirus, all the cities have shut down and there is no work. Most of us daily wagers couldn’t earn a living,” Rahman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “All of us now have a way of earning daily wages again to feed our families.”
Pakistan Is High On Global Climate Risk List
The five-year tree-planting programme was kick-started in 2018 to counter flooding, rising temperatures, and other extreme weather conditions.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, Pakistan was ranked fifth in the list of countries most affected by planetary heating in the last 20 years.
Initially, the 10 Billion Trees campaign was halted when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation, with social distancing orders implemented to slow the spread of the virus. But in mid-April, Prime Minister Imran Khan granted the forestry agency an exemption to restart the campaign.
Most of the tree planting is occurring near Islamabad, said Abdul Muqeet Khan, chief conservator of forests for Rawalpindi district. Around 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres) will be planted with trees. Other parts of state-owned forest land is also slated for the programme.
The 10 Billion Trees campaign has created many other jobs in rural areas, where women and young people migrating from locked-down cities are also being employed to set up nurseries, plant saplings and act as forest protection guards or firefighters, climate change advisor to the prime minister Malik Amin Aslam told Reuters.
All workers are required to abide by the two meter mandated rule and must wear face masks while working.
“This tragic crisis provided an opportunity and we grabbed it,” Aslam said in a phone interview. “Nurturing nature has come to the economic rescue of thousands of people.”
According to German Watch, an organization for “global equity and the preservation of livelihoods,” Pakistan has been subjected to over 150 extreme weather events since 1999. The devastation resulted in a total economic loss of $3.8 billion.
The push for reforestation will help in future flood prevention while providing cool spaces and biodiversity, and will assist in offsetting carbon dioxide emissions.
The Greener Pakistan
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) has reported that Pakistan’s forests only account for less than 6 percent of the total area of the nation.
However, since the funding of the earlier Billion Tree Tsunami in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2014, and now with the current $46 million in funding for the 10 Billion Trees project, over 30 million Indigenous saplings have already been planted.
This year, due to the pandemic, the programme will be continued until the end of June, despite the end of planting season occurring in May. This year, the project hopes that 50 million trees will have been planted.
“We can absorb all the unemployed labourers and workers who have fled the cities and returned to their villages in the past few weeks. This is unskilled work,” Shahid Rashid Awan, project director for Punjab province, said.
For people who have lost their job during the pandemic, like Rahman, the green initiative has given them a means to recover without receiving handouts.
“This has taught us the valuable lesson that when you invest in nature it not only pays you back, but also rescues you in a stressed economic situation,” Rab Nawaz of WWF-Pakistan said.