Peshawar          -         Vulnerable to climate change due to its geo-political and geographical placement, Pakistan was facing looming threats of water scarcity and food security due to changing patterns of weather, floods, deforestation, drought and desertification.

The adverse effects of climate change could be witnessed from floods of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 in the country’s different areas besides worst drought during 1999-2003, two cyclones in Karachi and Gwadar coast in 2008, increased incidences of landslides, avalanches and Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GOLFs) in the northern areas of Pakistan.

A traveller could see the damages of climate change and desertification while passing through Mardan and Swabi districts on Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway and Karak, Lakki Marwat and D I Khan districts on Indus Highway where vast land was made barren due to water scarcity, drought and deforestation.

The forest policy 2015 has revealed that Pakistan has a lowest 5% forest cover against 25% as per international standards.

“Pakistan was losing 27,000 hectares of forest every year mainly in private and community owned forests as the green gold was under enormous pressure in Gilgit Baltistan and KP due to rapid population growth, increased demand for wood and lands’ encroachment,” the policy disclosed.

To counter all these grave challenges and honour commitment made with international organizations by Pakistan, the PTI government has devised and implemented Green Growth Initiative (GGI) focusing on six main sectors including forestry, protected areas and national parks, clean energy, climate resilience, water & sanitation and waste management.Capitalizing on GGI, an ambitious Billion Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP) has been launched in November 2014 by the then PTI Government under which a record one billion and 18 crores plants including 600 million on 306,983 hectares through forest enclosures, 200 million on 263,213 hectares manmade and 200 million through farm forestry were planted during 2014-17 in KP.

BTAP the 4th biggest initiative in green sector worldwide  after China, India, and Ethiopia and first in Pakistan, has  increased KP’s forest covered area to record 26.6pc in 2017 from 20.3pc in 2013, registering 6.3 percent increase and efforts were underway to enhance it up to 30pc during next three years after bringing the vast land of merged areas (Erstwhile Fata) under afforestation cover. Resultantly, KP has exceeded 25pc forest cover as per international standard courtesy to billion trees projects.

At least 10 new small and big jungles have been raised in the province including Ghari Chandan Peshawar where over 3.2million  saplings on 32,000 hectares were planted in the first phase of the project.  Garhi Chandan forest is bigger than Changa Manga and is full of nests of native and migratory birds besides serving as habitat for wildlife.

These new jungles have created breeding grounds for native & exotic wild species and migratory birds including falcons, bears, houbara, cranes, leopard, ducks, monkeys, foxes, wolves, jackals, pheasants and national bird chakor to thrive besides made positive impact on non timber forests produce (NTFP) including honey, furniture, medicinal plants and ecotourism.

Muhammad Tehmasip Khan, Project Director, 10BTAP told APP that following enormous success of the first phase of the project, Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced 10BTAP  project on September 2, 2018 for entire country under which additional one billion saplings would be sown in KP by 2023. 

While referring to the two years performance of the present elected Govt in the green sector, he said 167 million saplings were planted on around 31, 342 hectares during 2019-20 besides distribution of 44 million free plants among farmers and general public and 71 million seedlings were grown in 3550 established enclosures. Similarly, departmental nursery on 688 hectares and nurseries on 469 hectares through women were raised. 

“Forest change detection via interpretation of satellite images through SUPARCO by assessing 1,496 forests enclosures and 2067 afforestation sites undertaken under BTAP, reflecting an overall positive change of 60.13pc and 70.81pc respectively, has validated BTAP plantations,” he said.

Similarly, 17,391 green jobs were provided in Punjab, 3,500 in Balochistan, 11,900 in Sindh, 3,000 in Gilgit Baltistan and 8500 in Azad Kashmir during COVID-19 lockdown.The project has been extended to merged areas (erstwhile Fata) for which an Accelerated Implementation Program (AIP) was approved by PDWP amounting Rs1559.151 million for 2020-2024 besides approval of 360 more posts for forest department to conserve and protect the green gold.

A new concept for creation of Knowledge Parks (KP) has been introduced and accordingly one such park was established at Kata Kanre in Kohat. Urban forest policy was in pipeline and baseline for ecotourism policy prepared.

Likewise, work on Forests Vision 2030 was in progress and activities of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) project for scientific management of forest resources and infrastructure development has been accelerated in Hazara.

Waving off duties on timber import to reduce pressure on natural forests, approval of SOPs for control of forest fire and Plantations Trees Act (PTA) besides establishment of three pheasantries at Bajaur, Mohmand and Kurram having 263 pheasants were achieved.

MOU has been signed under which German Support Program (GIZ) would extend financial support to 10BTAP and the World Bank has also pledged to provide funds for the project.

Syed Ishtiaq Urmar, Provincial Minister for Environment, Forests and Wildlife said BTAP has proved a game-changer project for the country in its fight against COVID-19, climate change, pollution, desertification, drought and deforestation besides honouring commitment made with international organizations.”PTI Govt has fulfilled its pledge made with BONN Challenge NGO based in Germany by restoring & rehabilitating a record 348,000 hectare depleted forests in 2014-17 under a billion trees project before the committed time, which was a great honour for Pakistan,” the minister added.

He said Forest Ordinance 2002 has been extended to merged areas and 38 new forest check posts were set up for protection of the green gold. As many as 2,060 village development committees and 200 women organizations formed for effective supervision of whopping plantations.

The minister said eucalyptus was very useful in waterlogged areas besides fulfilling firewood needs of the growing population and reducing pressure on existing forests.

He further said 13 forest officials have laid down their lives and six disabled for life in fighting against forest fire and timber mafia.