Pakistan hit its billion tree goal in August 2017 – months ahead of schedule. Now, the hills of the country’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are alive with newly planted saplings.

The massive reforestation project – named the Billion Tree Tsunami – added 350,000 hectares of trees both by planting and natural regeneration, in an effort to restore the province’s depleted forests and fight the effects of climate change.

Decades of felling and natural disasters have drastically reduced Pakistan’s forests. Figures for the country’s total forest cover range between around 2% and 5% of land area. Nevertheless, Pakistan has one of the lowest levels of forest cover in the region and well below the 12% recommended by the UN.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had lost large areas of forest to felling, which increased the likelihood of flooding and landslides. In 2016 flash floods hit the province, killing dozens of people.

Green success story

Cricket-star turned politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party governs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, spearheaded the Billion Tree Tsunami, which started in 2014 and cost $169 million.

Cricket-star turned politician Imran Khan spearheaded the Billion Tree Tsunami.
Image: REUTERS/Caren Firouz

As well as benefiting the environment, the project has established a network of private tree nurseries, which have boosted local incomes and generated green jobs, including for unemployed young people and women in the province.

It also meant the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government surpassed its 348,400 hectare commitment to the Bonn Challenge. This aims to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land worldwide by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. It was the first Bonn Challenge pledge to reach its restoration goal.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province surpassed its commitment to a global goal to restore 150 million hectares of deforested land by 2020.
Image: IUCN

Inger Andersen, head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the NGO in charge of administering the Bonn Challenge, described it as “a true conservation success story”.

However, the Billion Tree Tsunami has attracted criticism as well as praise within Pakistan, and an official inquiry into allegations of corruption has been launched.

Experts at World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan, which monitored and conducted an independent audit of the reforestation drive, say the project has been an environmental, economic and social success, VOA news reported.

Its popularity has prompted Pakistan’s federal government to launch its own Green Pakistan programme, which aims to plant 100 million trees in five years across the country.