The “Billion Tree Tsunami” (BTT) project has been one of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) more successful policy initiatives, for which the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf deserves unreserved credit. The province-wide reforestation initiative is reported to have achieved three-fourths of its target and would reach the billion tree mark by the end of 2017. This is a major achievement, the initiative increases the province’s forested area by at least 2%, and puts in place measures to check increasing deforestation and illegal tree-cutting. The project has drawn praise from institutes like the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and the Bonn Challenge – a global partnership aiming to restore the planet’s tree coverage – and its success should act as a model for other provinces.
It is imperative that this becomes a staple of the KP policies and not a one-off investment. The project and any expansion of it becomes increasingly important when we consider that only 4% of the country’s land is covered by forests; a number that is decreasing at a rapid pace. The implications of an increasing rate of deforestation for the national ecology, wildlife habitats and their attendant food chains should be obvious –the alarmingly low percentage causes other much more immediate problems.
The ability of the country to maintain clean air in the face of increasing numbers of automobiles and a developing industry is limited, and the health hazards for the population increases. There is also a direct link between deforestation and the risk of increased flooding. Deforestation in the country’s north has allowed rainwater to run off unchecked into rivers, which then overflow further downstream. Dams and barrages may be one of the methods of combating the almost annual flooding in the country, but a massive reforestation drive that covers the upper reaches of the mountainous regions with tree cover and regulates the timber industry is a much more permanent, natural – and crucially – cheaper solution.
The government must surely have this in mind as this is basic geologic knowledge but the BTT has provided it with an effective and functioning model to copy. It creates jobs – 500,000 according to the BTT estimates – regulates the timber industry and is fairly cheap compared to infrastructural projects. The federal government has already begun implementing its own “Green Pakistan Programme”, and perhaps the provinces need to look into their own iterations of the project too.