A Few Lessons From The Billion Tree Tsunami Project In KP
Pakistan is a country that is extremely rich in natural beauty. However, it has become prey to ever-increasing ecological stress together with deteriorating economic conditions due to climate change and pollution. For many years, the rulers of the state demonstrated ignorance and unconcern about the issue, until Imran Khan launched the “billion tree tsunami” – planting 1 billion trees under the agenda of slowing down global warming through the Green Growth Initiative – in KPK in 2014″.
Pakistan as a country has been highly affected by climate change and the biggest reason for this is deforestation. When the trees are shaved off from a locality, it becomes excessively vulnerable to climate change’s ravaging effects, resulting in an exponential increase in floods, risks of land sliding and melting of glaciers. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report (2015), our deforestation rate is 2.1% which is one of the highest in the world. In addition, our forest cover is also very low. Figures vary but generally, our forest cover is considered to be at less than 4%.
The billion tree tsunami project was meant to restore ecological benefits as well as bring economic prosperity among people by creating jobs for people, including women. However, due to mismanagement, the project also led to creating a spate of problems for the locals. Notably, it led to mobility issues, a decrease in grazing grounds for local herders and a rise in dependency syndrome. Moreover, wrong choice of trees in places opened doors to more harm than good in certain respects.
The newly planted and grown trees will undoubtedly lead to the cleaning of air and are an important step in mitigating global warming. However, for the local population, this scheme also means a sharp decline in the grazing grounds available to them, compelling them to use public transport for moving their animals around. The ensuing social mobility crisis has caused many animals to die, which is a huge loss to families that depend on their animals for sustenance. A national level scheme like the billion tree tsunami project must consider the effects it would have on the poor people, and suitable measures must be taken to mitigate the harmful effects.
Moreover, the government also provided incentives to the local people in the form of seeds, saplings, establishment of nurseries and guaranteed markets to encourage them to plant more trees. To a people who hitherto produced their own livelihood, which is now being supplanted by the government scheme, this created a dependency syndrome. People who would switch to the new scheme would constantly depend on the government for support and supplies.
One of the major shortcomings of this scheme was the choice of trees that were planted. The government should consider the suitability of the kind of plantation beneficial for a particular locality. The trees planted were mostly non-native Eucalyptus and gum trees, rather than native fruit-bearing trees (whose produce would have added considerable economic benefits). In many environmentalists’ viewpoint, Eucalyptus trees are a hazard as they require more water than other plants, posing a threat not only to biodiversity of that region but for the entire country. Despite its fast growth rate, the eucalyptus tree also requires human assistance and a lot of water, thus depleting water availability for other plants. Planting native trees could immensely save us from extra costs, besides providing fruits and medicines, which could double as a source of livelihood for the people and improve living conditions.
However, the government overlooked these hazards in its billion tree tsunami in KP. We hope that the subsequent plantations are done, keeping all these factors in mind. The consequences may not be immediately visible, but they do eventually show up. Recall the ill-advised plantation of paper mulberry all over Islamabad in the 1960s that has thousands of people suffering from severe pollen allergies today.
Lastly, even in this initiative under the PTI’s green initiative, instances of corruption came to light, in the form of ghost plantations, nepotism while choosing nurseries and misappropriation of funds. The National Accountability Bureau launched an inquiry for investigating corruption charges in the Billion Tree Tsunami scheme in 2018. There is a reported loss of US$3 million in the name of corruption in this project.
We need to realise the absolutely dire necessity of fulfilling our climate goals. Pakistan is among the most vulnerable places in the world from climate change. The way forward is not simply inflating statistics but carrying out meaningful and well-thought-out planning and execution of projects. I hope the government considers these points while making its future decisions in the matter. Finally, as a nation, we also need to remember that trees are a natural capital, not revenue machines.