How landslides fueled a climate warrior’s forestation drive in Pakistan

How landslides fueled a climate warrior’s forestation drive in Pakistan

Khan Zaib, a social worker, launched forestation project in Bajaur tribal district- Improved forest cover has spurred return of wildlife that was disappearing from the region- Currently there are around 250,000 trees and plants in 50-acre mountain forest

By Aamir Latif

BAJAUR, Pakistan (AA) - Nestled on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the remote Bajaur tribal region, which was once a poster child for militancy, is currently in the headlines for a different reason: a feel-good success story of a climate warrior.

Until recent years, landslides would regularly strike the tiny village of Maulana Khan Zaib, located on the foothills of a then-rugged mountain, causing casualties and infrastructure damage.

But this is no longer the case, just because of a small tree plantation venture initiated by Zaib, which in the next few years turned out to be a big success.

The then-barren mountain has been transformed into a lush green forest, not only holding off the landslides but bringing back the wildlife to the area.

"We had long been reeling from the landslides’ damage until we realized it was because of the ruggedness of the mountain," Zaib, a religious scholar and social worker, told Anadolu.

He had discussed the plantation plan with his village mates, but the initial response was not very encouraging.

"I was not discouraged by that. They even laughed at me," Zaib, attired in a white shalwar-kameez (loose trousers and long shirt) and sporting a round cap, said.

He kicked off the project by planting 10,000 saplings.

The turning point in his ambitious venture was next year's rains that helped the plants grow, bringing some greenery to the mountain.

"There came an understanding and assistance from the village mates," Zaib, 42, who has a Master’s degree in Islamic education, said with a wide grin.


- Wildlife returns to area

There have been no landslides in and around Zaib's village for the last several years due to improved forest cover.

Being one of the countries vulnerable to the ravages of climate change, Pakistan has gradually been losing its forest cover, mainly because of climate change impacts, firewood needs and intentional fires to increase agricultural land.

Several parts of northwestern Khyber Phaktunkhwa province, including Bajaur, have seen an increasing trend of intentional wildfires in recent years, burning thousands of acres of forest cover.

The dwindling forest cover also took a toll on the wildlife, with several rare bird and animal species disappearing from the region.

"Bajaur had been a green region until four to five decades ago. However, a gradual deforestation, particularly because of widespread tree cutting and intentional fires, has turned the mountains, including the one near my village, into a barren sight," Zaib said.

A military operation in 2008, which aimed to oust militants, also contributed to destroying the forest on the mountain that overlooks Zaib's village.

Currently, there are around 250,000 trees and plants spreading over a 50-acre mountain forest, according to Zaib.

The strengthening forest cover has spurred the return of wildlife to the region, including migratory birds.

"Wildlife had almost vanished from the area, but it has been revived in recent years due to increased forest cover," Shaikh Gul Baacha, another local climate activist, told Anadolu.

Not only have several local animals and birds been spotted in the forest but migratory birds have also started visiting the area again to spend winters over the past few years, he added.

Also, he said, the greenery has helped reduce temperatures in the adjoining villages in summers.


- 'Climate change is a reality'

Mohammad Saleem, a local tribal elder, heaps the blame for tree felling on the government, as the sprawling tribal district has no infrastructure for natural gas supplies.

"We all know the importance of trees. But what other option do we have except for (cutting down) trees, especially in the winter?" he said while speaking to Anadolu.

Partially supporting the argument, Zaib said the combination of a lack of basic amenities, including no gas supplies, and awareness has triggered deforestation in the region.

The provision of natural gas, he said, can help save the precious forests in the region, which are a "lifeline for us and our coming generations."

"Climate change is a reality, and we have to live up to this challenge."

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