A province in Pakistan has planted a billion trees in just two years as part of an effort to restore forests wiped out by decades of felling and natural disasters such as floods.
Cricket-star turned politician Imran Khan, who heads the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), launched the green mission in Khyber Pakhtunkhaw in the north-west of the country.
The project – dubbed Billion Tree Tsunami – aims to slow down the effects of global warming in Pakistan which ranks in the Top 10 in a list of countries most likely to be affected by the phenomenon.
And the effort in the province, which lies in the Hindu Kush mountain range, has surpassed an international commitment after it restored 350,000 hectares of forests and degraded land.
The work in Khyber Pakhtunkhaw was focussed along the area beside the Gambila River, in the Bannu District, where vast swathes of forest were wiped out in the past after its banks broke.
The Billion Tree Tsunami was completed this month ahead of the deadline set for December 2017 and is expected to be extended across Pakistan.
It comes after decades of tree felling have reduced the country’s forests to less than 3 per cent of its land area. About 40 per cent of the remaining forests are in the north-western province.
Mr Khan said: “If you plant trees, we have discovered, by the river banks it sustains the rivers. But most importantly, the glaciers that are melting in the mountains, and one of the biggest reasons is because there has been a massive deforestation. So, this billion tree is very significant for our future.”
The PTI party head launched the green project in Khyber Pakhtunkhaw as part of an international goal that calls for the global restoration of 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature set up the Bonn Challenge in 2011 and more than 20 countries have so far signed up to the commitment.
The organisation congratulated Mr Khan on reaching a “momentous milestone”.
A statement read: “This marks the first Bonn Challenge pledge to reach its restoration goal.”
Inger Anderson, director general of IUCN, added: “The Billion Tree Tsunami initiative is a true conservation success story, one that further demonstrates Pakistan’s leadership role in the international restoration effort and continued commitment to the Bonn Challenge.”
Experts at World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan, which is monitoring and auditing the tree-planting effort in Khyber Pakhtunkhaw, say the project has been an environmental, economic and social success, with one of the highest survival rates of trees in the world, ranging from 70 to 90 per cent.
“If the trend continues, there will be more birds, there will be more microbes, there will be more insects, so there will be more animals, so more habitats. The ecosystem will kind of literally revive in certain places. There will be more rains because we do need rains,” Hamaad Khan Naqi, WWF-Pakistan’s director general, VOA news reported.
Mr Khan said the government in the north-western region has banned the cutting and felling of trees in reserved forests across the province.
Authorities have also curtailed activities of the so-called “timber mafia”, which unlawfully cut down forests, by dismantling hundreds of illegal sawmills and arresting timber cutters.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies