The Billion Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP) has provided an opportunity to the jobless laborers and daily wagers to earn better livelihoods for their families during the testing times of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Approximately, 66,291 jobless workers were provided jobs in 10 BTAP after they were out of jobs due to the closure of industrial units, public transport, hotels, SMEs, tourism, mines, mineral, construction, and other sectors during the nearly two months lockdown in the country.
According to the details, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, around 22,000 jobs were provided to laborers 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.
Project Director, Muhammad Tehmasip said,
Following decisions of the Federal and KP Governments to create job opportunities for the COVID-19 lockdown affected the workforce in the 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 laborers were given jobs in the tube and bare-rooted nurseries, forests enclosures, watering new plantations, mobilization of public for afforestation, spring plantation and protection of jungles programs. Each laborer is being paid Rs. 15,000 per month and Rs. 1,50,000 per year, he added.
We are strictly following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) notified by the Government against COVID-19 to ensure the safety of laborers at workplaces besides the provision of masks and maintaining social distancing. Globally, these jobs are called ‘green jobs’ because it reduces pressure on forest and wildlife resources, ensures economic empowerment of communities, combats climate change, and keeps the economy running during emergencies such as COVID-19 lockdown. These laborers and daily wagers were hired to quickly achieve spring plantation target of 100 million saplings by June 30, 2020.
To date, he said, 90 million saplings have been planted during the spring season, and the remaining 10 million will be sown by June next year with the assistance of national building departments, farmers, volunteers, students, and the general public.
“The spring plantation was smoothly underway in KP as no adverse effects of coronavirus has been witnessed on 10 BTAP rather afforestation campaign was expedited due to easy availability of laborers,” 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 forest enclosures, which registered a record six percent increase in KP’s total forest areas i.e. 26.3% in 2018 versus 20.3% in 2013.
Under the project, he said, 10 new small and big forests were raised in the province including Ghari Chandan Peshawar where more than 3.2 billion plants on 32,000 hectares of land were raised to control pollution, temperatures, and provide better livelihood to laborers.
“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.
Farhatullah Khan, Conservator Merged Areas, said plantations and sowing targets set for spring season have almost been achieved in Bajaur district and work on forest enclosures is in progress for natural regeneration of plants in inaccessible and mountainous areas in the seven tribal districts.
He said negotiations with tribal elders are underway for the establishment of forest enclosure on 40 hectares in Bajaur where priority in jobs will be given to local laborers and daily wagers in the “Greens Nigahbaan” program.
Syed Ishtiaq Urmar, Provincial Minister for Environment, Forests, and Wildlife said that coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected almost all socioeconomic sectors especially daily wagers and laborers for whom special programs were launched in the green sector to create jobs opportunities for them.
He said, “Green Stimulus” package has recently been approved by Prime Minister Imran Khan to create job opportunities for thousands of laborers and daily wagers affected by COVID-19 lockdown.
Under the package, a ‘Green Nigehabaan’ initiative will be launched to provide employment to around 65,000 youth and daily wage earners in the first phase by making them a part of the 10 BTAP campaign. He said community participation will be ensured for the success of these pro-laborers and environment-friendly projects besides the accomplishment of “Clean and Green Pakistan.”
Keeping in view of the enormous success of the first phase of BTAP, Prime Minister Imran Khan had launched 10 BTAP in 2018 under which 10 billion saplings will be planted in all four provinces including additional one billion plants in KP by 2023. Under 10 BTAP, he said 70 percent plantation will be carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 30 percent in merged areas (erstwhile Fata) where vast lands were available for afforestation.