Once arid hillsides have now become wide swaths of lush green woodland in northwestern Pakistan, where hundreds of millions of trees from 42 different species have been planted as part of the provincial government’s “Billion Tree Tsunami” program. “Before, it was completely burnt land. Now, they have green gold in their hands,” forest manager Pervaiz Manan told AFP. The reforestation effort aims to control erosion, combat climate change, reduce flooding, increase the chances of precipitation and provide economic opportunities for locals. “Now our hills are useful, our fields became useful,” local driver Ajbir Shah said. “It is a huge benefit for us.”

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Much of the land being replanted was decimated between 2006 and 2009, when the Pakistani Taliban controlled much of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the project is now underway. In addition to the more than 300 million trees planted in the region under the provincial government, 150 million trees were given to private landowners to plant, while 730 million already-planted trees have been protected to allow for regrowth. The mind-blowing number of trees, over a billion, has been confirmed by independent observers. “We are 100 percent confident that the figure about the billion trees is correct,” World Wildlife Fund Pakistan manager Kamran Hussain said. “Everything is online. Everyone has access to this information.”

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The Billion Tree Tsunami comes at a time when Pakistan’s forest stock has shrunk to a perilous low; only 5.2 percent of the country is covered in forests, well below the 12 percent recommended by the United Nations. Started in 2014, the Billion Tree Tsunami program still needs to implement some safeguard systems, such as fire protection, before its expected completion in 2020. In 2017, the federal government of Pakistan began its own project to plant 100 million trees by 2022. While some are skeptical of the project’s long-term success, with infrastructure historically taking precedent over environmental concerns, the Billion Tree Tsunami offers hope. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ruling party leader Imran Khan said, “Every child in Pakistan should be aware of the environmental issue which, until now, has been a non-issue.”

Via Phys.org and AFP

Image via Haroon (HBK)