Earlier this week, Prime Minister Imran Khan's government approved the 'Green Stimulus' package as a part of its ongoing efforts to increase Pakistan's green cover.
Pakistan is one the six countries expected to be most affected by global warming, experiencing more than 150 extreme weather events in the last decade. In August 2017, Pakistan became the first country in the world to complete its Bonn Challenge pledge of planting one billion trees. From 2014 to 2017, about 350,000 hectares of trees were added by plantation and natural regeneration in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province governed by Imran Khan's party. When Khan ascended to the Prime Minister's office in August 2018, he pledged to plant a further 10 billion trees all over the country.
Dubbed the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, the ambitious five-year project has always been multi-pronged. It addresses the adverse effects of climate change including rising temperatures, floods, droughts and extreme weathers. At the same time, it also supports the economy by creating thousands of new jobs.
A quarter of Pakistan's population lives below the national poverty line, with unemployment rate in 2019 already standing at 4.5% before coronavirus forced the country to shutdown. Pakistan has been walking a tightrope these past few months, with its lower and lower-middle classes faced with extreme choices of "death by either the virus or hunger", as the Prime Minister put it. A recent report by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics states that the COVID-19 lockdown could force up to 19 million people getting laid off. For thousands of people who have already lost their jobs to the lockdown, the only options are to either go hungry or resort to begging.
Under the new Green Stimulus package, initially aiming to create 65,000 job opportunities, unemployed day laborers are now being given jobs as "jungle workers", planting saplings under the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme. The Ministry of Climate Change is also working on a plan to engage the international community under the Debt for Nature Swap programme to convert part of the country’s debt into grant for greater environment protection activities. This is an ingenious idea which effectively uses funds allocated for fighting the current global crisis by directly supporting the worst-affected families, while at the same time preparing for the next global crisis: climate change.
Something tells me that Greta Thunberg will be proud of Pakistan.