The KP provincial government’s ambitious Green Growth Initiative plans to harness the environment for development and uplift.
A few years ago, as we drove up to Besham on the Karakoram Highway, I was horrified to see piles upon piles of timber lining the road in Kohistan. They must have slaughtered an entire forest to get so many tree trunks, which appeared to be Deodar wood — it takes almost 100 years for a Deodar tree to mature, so the carnage was outrageous.
There must have been over 100,000 felled trees lined up along the road. The locals claimed that these trees were cut back in the 1990s, before the ban on logging was enforced in Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP). The good news is that the KP government has now taken over all this wood lying on the Karakoram Highway. They have apparently also moved against the timber mafia in KP, restricting their movement and catching hold of a lot of illicit timber (mostly from Kohistan). The timber, valued at Rs7 or 8 billion, will be sold by the KP government and the funds will be invested into forestry.
“Imran Khan himself visited these areas in a helicopter. In Mansehra, where many trees have also been illegally cut, he fired officials in the forest department from the conservator of forests down to the lower staff and filed cases against them,” explains Malik Amin Aslam, the architect of the PTI’s Green Growth Initiative and global vice-president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Aslam, who was also recently appointed an advisor on environment to the PTI chief, claims that timber permits cannot be acquired in KP anymore.
“We have a two-pronged strategy in KP now — the timber mafia won’t be tolerated and we will plant more trees and send a positive message to our youth,” he says.
Spearheaded by the current KP government, the Green Growth Initiative is a unique endeavour in Pakistan and has given birth to a stream of projects, which include the “Billion Tree Tsunami,” the installation of small hydel projects in the province, and an overhaul of its national parks. Later, the initiative plans to tackle rivers by cleaning them up.
The “Billion Tree Tsunami” got off to a slow start, as there were not enough nurseries in place to produce the tree saplings. Today, the nurseries are doing well — they are privately owned, mostly by women at the village level who are growing nurseries of around 25,000 plants, from which they earn around Rs10,000 to 18,000 per month.
“Last year, around 20 million saplings were planted and we monitored them for their survival rates. We have found a 90 per cent survival rate from last year. With the monsoon coming now, our targets are higher; this winter’s target is six times more than last winter,” explains Malik Amin.
The model has been so successful that they have got it registered under the international Bonn challenge, which is a global voluntary agreement by various countries to set forestry targets for themselves under the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Countries like Brazil, USA and Peru are all part of this challenge and now KP has become the first sub-national entity to enter into this agreement. The IUCN President visited Pakistan two weeks ago to give a letter of acceptance to the KP government for being part of the Bonn challenge.
“This is exactly what needs to happen — by planting trees in Mardan, we are getting global recognition and potential funding in the future. Right now the Billion Tree Tsunami is funded by the KP government,” says Malik Amin.
Under the Green Growth Initiative, 256 small hydel projects of various sizes are also being built — 50 projects are at the commissioning stage, others still at the bidding stage. The goal is to complete them all in two years time; they are mostly off-grid and the electricity is to be used in the local areas.
The Green Growth Initiative also focuses on national parks; the KP government has passed new legislation, which hands over the six national parks in KP to public-private boards.
“Now, the parks’ management can directly access funds and doesn’t have to go through government machinery; every national park will have its own community conservation board. The local wildlife head will be on this board along with local NGOs and the district administration. The conservation boards will be given funds and the authority to spend on the parks.”
The KP government also wants to increase the number of national parks to 12 and studies are in process. They hope to include the Pallas Valley in Kohistan, which is a thickly forested area of the country from where the timber on the Karakoram Highway was cut.
By 2018, Malik Amin claims KP can potentially achieve zero carbon growth — “Most of our electricity will come from hydro projects; we also have the largest forests in Pakistan and we plan on increasing the forest cover.”
This is not just talk, he argues, as they have already started action on their Green Growth Initiative and have self-financed it (without help from donors).
“If there was green thinking amongst the other parties and if it would get embedded in the political movement, then there would be a strong impetus to get these things done,” he says.
With a forest cover of less than four per cent in Pakistan, it is heartening to learn that at least one province is taking action to green itself; let’s see some green thinking in the other provincial governments as well. With everyone in the world now talking about a “sustainable future,” it is time they also got with the programme.