PESHAWAR - The Billions Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP), a flagship programme of PTI gov­ernment in green sector, has been proved an oasis for thousands of jobless labourers and daily wagers to earn better livelihoods for their families during the testing times of COVID-19 lockdown.

Approximately, 66,291 jobless workers were provided green jobs in 10 BTAP af­ter they lost employment due to closure of industrial units, public transport, hotels, SMEs, tourism, mines, mineral, construc­tion and other sectors during the nearly two months lockdown in the country.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, around 22,000 green jobs were provided to labourers and daily wagers, 17,391 in Punjab, 3,500 in Balochistan, 11,900 in Sindh, 3,000 in Gilgit Baltistan and 8500 in Azad Kashmir.

Talking to APP, Project Director, Muham­mad Tehmasip said, “Following decisions of the Federal and KP Governments to cre­ate jobs opportunities for the COVID-19 lockdown affected workforce in green sec­tor, the KP Forest Department has tak­en a lead role by providing jobs to around 22,000 unemployed workers in its nurs­eries, forests enclosures and afforestation programs”.

These labourers were given jobs in tube and bare-rooted nurseries, forests enclo­sures, watering new plantations, mobaliza­tion of public for afforestation, spring plan­tation and protection of jungles programs. Each labourer was being paid Rs15,000 per month and Rs1,50,000 per year, he said.

“We are strictly following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) notified by the Government against COVID-19 to en­sure the safety of labourers at workplaces besides provision of masks and maintain­ing social distancing,” he said.

“Globally, these jobs are called ‘green jobs’ because it reduces pressure on forest and wildlife resources, ensure econom­ic empowerment of communities, com­bate climate change and keep economy running during emergencies such as COV­ID-19 lockdown,” Tehmasip said.

“These labourers and daily wagers were hired to quickly achieve spring plantation target of 100 million saplings by June 30, 2020.” Till date, he said 90 million saplings were planted during spring season and re­maining 10 million would be sown by June next with assistance of national building departments, farmers, volunteers, stu­dents and general public.

“The spring plantation was smoothly un­derway in KP as no adverse effects of coro­navirus has been witnessed on 10BTAP rather afforestation campaign was expe­dited due to easy availability of labourers,” he maintained.

The Project Director said the first phase of BTAP was launched in 2014 under which over 1.20 billion saplings were planted on 2,30,000 hectares and 4,509 forests enclo­sures, which registered a record six per­cent increase in KP’s total forest areas i.e. 26.3 pc in 2018 against 20.3pc in 2013.

Under the project, he said, 10 new small and big jungles were raised in the province including Ghari Chandan Peshawar where more than 3.2 billion plants on 32,000 hactares land were raised to control pollu­tion, temperatures and provide better live­lihood to labourers.

“Ghari Chandan forest is bigger than Changa Manga. It has created breeding grounds for native and exotic wild species including falcons, bears, houbara bustard, cranes, common leopard, monkeys, fox­es, wolves, jackals, pheasants, black & grey partridges, honeybees and national bird chakor to thrive,” he said.

Keeping in view of the enormous suc­cess of first phase of BTAP, Prime Min­ister Imran Khan had launched 10BTAP in 2018 under which 10 billion saplings would be planted in all four provinces in­clouding additional one billion plants in KP by 2023. Under 10BTAP, he said 70 per cent plantation would be carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 30 percent in merged areas (erstwhile Fata) where vast lands were available for afforesta­tion.

Farhatullah Khan, Conservator Merged Areas, said plantations and sowing tar­gets set for spring season have almost been achieved in Bajaur district and work on forests enclosures were in pro­gress for natural regeneration of plants in inaccessible and mountainous areas in the seven tribal districts.