Millions around the world are out of work due to the pandemic and the consequent lockdowns. Pakistan is one country that is thinking on its feet to alleviate the hardship for recently unemployed laborers, introducing a “green stimulus effort.” Since the country’s lockdown began on March 23, unemployed day laborers have been put to work as “jungle workers,” planting billions of trees.
The program is part of the 2018 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project, which seeks to combat rising temperatures, flooding, droughts, and other climate change-related natural events by planting billions of trees in the next few years.
Rahman, a resident of the Punjab province who is now employed as a jungle worker, told Reuters, “Due to coronavirus, all the cities have shut down and there is no work. Most of us daily wagers couldn’t earn a living. All of us now have a way of earning daily wages again to feed our families.”
A majority of the planting is happening on 15,000 acres of land near the capital of Islamabad, as well as in state-owned forest land throughout Pakistan.
At first, the 10 Billion Trees campaign was paused when the coronavirus hit Pakistan, to promote social distancing measures, but earlier this month the prime minister issued the program an exemption. While travel within the country is still restricted, residents are allowed to travel as part of the project, and restarting the program has created over 63,000 jobs.
Malik Amin Aslam, climate change advisor to the prime minister, told Reuters, “This tragic crisis provided an opportunity and we grabbed it. Nurturing nature has come to the economic rescue of thousands of people […] This has taught us the valuable lesson that when you invest in nature it not only pays you back, but also rescues you in a stressed economic situation.”