The Pakistani government is now paying tens of thousands of day laborers to continue its ambitious 10 Billion Tree Tsunami program, in an effort to both combat the climate crisis and provide much-needed economic stimulus amid the country’s COVID-19 lockdown.
Initially launched in 2018, the program was temporarily halted as part of the country’s social distancing efforts. Now it has been reopened, employing more than 60,000 people around the country, triple the number of people than it did in its first year.
The 10 Billion Tree Tsunami program is one of many programs around the world using reforestation to both mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. More trees can not only capture carbon emissions and therefore prevent further climate change, but also provide habitat that promotes biodiversity, offer barriers to floods, and provide cool spaces for humans to escape the heat, among many other benefits. In fact, a 2019 study found that worldwide planting efforts could reduce global emissions by 2/3, making it one of the most impactful and cost-effective climate measures available.
Reforestation is particularly vital for Pakistan where trees cover less than 6% of land. Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2020 ranked Pakistan among the top five countries in the world most affected by planetary heating over the last 20 years. With the help of the new workers, this year the initiative hopes to plant more than 50 million trees.
Each worker receives 500-800 rupees ($3-5) per day of work. This is roughly half what they might have otherwise made on a good day before the pandemic. While this is not sufficient as a long-term solution, for many it is enough to make ends meet. The Pakistan Institute of Development Economics estimates that up to 19 million people could be laid off due to the COVID-19 lockdown, often leaving people without any source of income for their families.
This effort is yet another example of how our response to the coronavirus can not only help save lives and rebuild our economies , but also tackle some of our other major challenges worldwide, particularly climate change and poverty. Perhaps more countries can follow Pakistan’s lead and use tree planting as a way to employ thousands of workers who might otherwise be out of a job, bolster ecosystems and biodiversity, and cheaply capture carbon emissions before they further contribute to the climate crisis.
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