The poor are not allowed to work in times of the virus. Now they are getting money because they are supposed to plant millions of trees.

Wanderweg in Margalla Hill in Pakistan.

Pakistan wants to make a virtue out of necessity: the corona virus has cost hundreds of day laborers their income. Now they should plant trees to help protect the climate. The World Wildlife Fund in Pakistan praises the approach.

The Pakistani government has put the country into an artificial coma since March 23. In doing so, she wanted to prevent the virus from spreading faster. As in neighboring Bangladesh and India, the poor are particularly at risk. There is no insurance, no contracts for day laborers and workers, and most factories are forcibly closed. They have to leave their huts if they want to survive. More than 20 million people are officially out of work, unofficially the number will be much higher.

Pakistan, with its more than 212 million people, has long been one of the countries that suffer most from climate change. Pakistan ranks fifth on the list of the hardest hit countries. In order to secure the energy supply, the South Asian country is now relying more on coal-fired power plants, often built by the Chinese. With the call to plant ten billion trees within five years, which Prime Minister Imran Khan promoted in 2018 as the “10 Billion Tree Tsunami”, he wants to combat rising temperatures, floods and droughts. Of course, afforestation should also improve Pakistan’s reputation. In the early days of the project, growers managed to get 2.5 million seedlings in a single day. The planting campaign is very popular on social media and seems to be one of the few projects that unites the deeply torn society in moderation.

Season should be extended

Now Khan and the military, still pulling the strings in the background, saw the opportunity to join the fight against both challenges. Pakistan is officially heading towards 15,000 corona sufferers – unofficially the number is much higher. Because the country can only carry out a few tests. It is often said that the test kits supplied by his partner China are faulty. Many remain in the ranks of the military and never reached the people. Initially, the government interrupted the planting program to reduce infections with the virus.

In the meantime, however, almost 70,000 people are also supposed to work as planters in Corona times, reports the Reuters agency. The planting season is to be extended until the end of June in order to give the poor more work. The village administrations are instructed to give them a special exit permit. Truck drivers who bring the seedlings into the villages receive a similar certificate. Much of the planting is going on around the capital Islamabad. Particular attention should be paid to women and migrant workers who moved back to their villages during the crisis. All workers should wear masks and keep their distance from one another – for some it may be the first time that they even get a mask. They should receive around 500 rupees (2.83 euros) a day for work as planters, forest rangers, or as firefighters in forest fires – this roughly corresponds to the legal minimum wage without all the usual allowances and is just enough to survive.

At the beginning of the program there were killings of forest rangers because illegal logging is widespread in South Asia. Around 40 percent of the state’s land area is said to have been conquered by land robbers, often influential local politicians. Environmental activists, however, report that the government program has awakened a new awareness of the climate problems in many people. In many places in the country there are now large green signs pointing to the new plantations.