The Deosai National Park
The Deosai National Park in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan.

Islamabad: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced to create 15 national parks across the country under the ‘Protective Area Initiative’ to protect and enhance forest cover, create green jobs and address the threat of climate change.

Out of these 15 parks, nine are new national parks while government will strengthen ecological management in six others.

The initiative, which is part of the ‘Green Stimulus’ vision, aims to enhance the protected and conserved area to 15 percent to cover land area of over 7,300 sq. km, encompassing the mountains in the north to the scrub forests in the plains and a marine protected area in the southern part of the country.

Almost 5,000 direct green jobs will be created for the youth in the initial phase of the project. “This a major initiative which will benefit future generations” Khan said. Protecting green areas and parks will boost Pakistan’s efforts to address the challenge of climate change, he said, referring to the 10 billion trees plantation program that received global acclaim.

“Pakistan has a diverse landscape with 12 ecological climatic zones”, said Khan, while regretting that little has been done in the past decades to protect forests in the country. He also lamented the hunting of ibex, snow leopards and other endangered species, and said these animals must be protected with the support of local people. Highlighting the potential of eco-tourism in the country, he said the focus should be on sustainable tourism, which does not put pressure on the communities and ecosystem.

Protecting nature and creating jobs

Advisor to PM on ‪Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, termed the latest initiative a “milestone effort to preserve nature”. The project aims to expand protective areas from 12 to 15 percent by 2023
with proper management. At least seven national parks would be enlisted as IUCN’s Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas, the gold standard for achieving excellence in conserving nature and cultural values, he added. Under the programme, 5000 ‘guardians of nature’ would be offered jobs within the next three months. This is a win-win strategy as “Pakistan will be protecting nature while creating new jobs” to support those laid off during COVID-19, he said.‬

Environmentalist praise Pakistan’s green initiative

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global environmental organization, welcomed the move by Pakistani leadership to incorporate nature conservation in its Green Stimulus package. IUCN congratulates “the government of Pakistan on this exciting, bold and innovative initiative, which shows that economic growth and nature conservation can be mutually reinforcing,” said Dr Kathy MacKinnon, Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.

Pakistan’s economic stimulus package focused on 15 national parks will protect a diverse range of habitats, benefit both nature and people and create a pool of new jobs for unemployed youth. “This is an excellent model for linking economic development with a new deal for nature.”

Renowned conservationist Dr George Schaller of the Wildlife Conservation Society in his audio comment remarked: “I’m breathless that a country’s leader has such a wonderful vision for the future of his country. That happens far too rarely in this world.”

Talking to Gulf News, Islamabad-based environmentalist Mome Saleem, highly praised the green imitative that will help improve “Pakistan’s forest cover which is the lowest in the region” and is constantly under threat due to deforestation and degradation, making Pakistan more vulnerable to climate change. “One of the most promising features of the project is that Pakistan is slowly but surely moving towards green economy which must be the focus in the post-pandemic world.” She advised the government to broaden its horizon as the “green jobs are not limited to plantation but extend to energy, water, waste management, organic farming and multiple other areas.”